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Monday, 3 October 2011

Umba on Evolution

Umba writes (& I comment below):

Sorry for the delay.

Let's make a theoretical experiment: we take 2 strains of bacteria, A and B, from 2 very different environments: for example hot thermal waters and gut flora. While cultivating them, we start to change the environmental parameters of each group (temperature, PH, dissolved salts etc.) till they end up living in the same environment. During this process, at each environmental change, we will actually "select" a little group that can stand the change. At the end of this first phase, we will start poisoning them with chemicals; in other words, we will keep them under a selective stress. Eventually, we will end up with two groups of bacteria that look like exactly the same. However, looking at their DNA we will be still able to say "A comes from the hot waters and B comes from the gut flora". Now, if we put a mammal in the place of A and a marsupial in the place of B and then we put both of them under the same stress/opportunity conditions (the same ecological niche) for several millions of years, we will eventually get a wolf and a marsupial wolf. So, from my point of view, there is nothing too much exciting about having animals that belong to different evolutionary lines and look the same.

You say: "My point is that the resistant bacteria are not members of a new species – no new genetic information has been created. It was all there in the original population." And "Similarly in the geneticists' laboratory: they bombard fruit flies with radiation and get one of three outcomes – normal fruit flies, mutant fruit flies or dead fruit flies. What they don't get is a new species of fruit fly."

But: 1) new information is created on a continuous basis because we are all bombed with radioactivity coming from everywhere, and 2) "getting a new species" it is not difficult at all!! Have a look here: under "artificial speciation".


Two groups of bacteria that look exactly the same – until we look really closely.

Human beings have selectively bred plants and animals for centuries. There is always a limit, though. No cat breeder has ever produced a chicken.

You say that new information is created on a continuous basis because we are all bombed with radioactivity. This is question begging on a huge scale, my friend. Forgive me!

Below is David Berlinski writing in the style of Jorge Luis Borges. I don't expect you to like it as much as I do.

On the Derivation of Ulysses from Don Quixote

I IMAGINE THIS story being told to me by Jorge Luis Borges one evening in a Buenos Aires cafe.

His voice dry and infinitely ironic, the aging, nearly blind literary master observes that "the Ulysses," mistakenly attributed to the Irishman James Joyce, is in fact derived from "the Quixote."

I raise my eyebrows.

Borges pauses to sip discreetly at the bitter coffee our waiter has placed in front of him, guiding his hands to the saucer.

"The details of the remarkable series of events in question may be found at the University of Leiden," he says. "They were conveyed to me by the Freemason Alejandro Ferri in Montevideo."

Borges wipes his thin lips with a linen handkerchief that he has withdrawn from his breast pocket.

"As you know," he continues, "the original handwritten text of the Quixote was given to an order of French Cistercians in the autumn of 1576."

I hold up my hand to signify to our waiter that no further service is needed.

"Curiously enough, for none of the brothers could read Spanish, the Order was charged by the Papal Nuncio, Hoyo dos Monterrey (a man of great refinement and implacable will), with the responsibility for copying the Quixote, the printing press having then gained no currency in the wilderness of what is now known as the department of Auvergne. Unable to speak or read Spanish, a language they not unreasonably detested, the brothers copied the Quixote over and over again, re-creating the text but, of course, compromising it as well, and so inadvertently discovering the true nature of authorship. Thus they created Fernando Lor's Los Hombres d'Estado in 1585 by means of a singular series of copying errors, and then in 1654 Juan Luis Samorza's remarkable epistolary novel Por Favor by the same means, and then in 1685, the errors having accumulated sufficiently to change Spanish into French, Moliere's Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, their copying continuous and indefatigable, the work handed down from generation to generation as a sacred but secret trust, so that in time the brothers of the monastery, known only to members of the Bourbon house and, rumor has it, the Englishman and psychic Conan Doyle, copied into creation Stendhal's The Red and the Black and Flaubert's Madame Bovary, and then as a result of a particularly significant series of errors, in which French changed into Russian, Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Anna Karenina. Late in the last decade of the 19th century there suddenly emerged, in English, Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, and then the brothers, their numbers reduced by an infectious disease of mysterious origin, finally copied the Ulysses into creation in 1902, the manuscript lying neglected for almost thirteen years and then mysteriously making its way to Paris in 1915, just months before the British attack on the Somme, a circumstance whose significance remains to be determined."

I sit there, amazed at what Borges has recounted. "Is it your understanding, then," I ask, "that every novel in the West was created in this way?"

"Of course," replies Borges imperturbably. Then he adds: "Although every novel is derived directly from another novel, there is really only one novel, the Quixote."

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