The Elements of Evolution (38-4) The Easy Route

 The Easy Route

Some traits are easy to evolve – formed by many different combinations of mutations. Others are hard to evolve – made from an unlikely genetic recipe. Evolution gives us the easy ones, even when they are not the best. ~ American molecular biologist Matthew Cowperthwaite et al

Via computer modeling and statistical inference, Cowperthwaite and his colleagues concluded that evolution may be short-sighted, yielding some good in the short run, but painting evolution into a corner in the long run.

In the long run we are all dead. ~ English economist John Maynard Keynes

That evolution consistently delivers life is well beyond probabilistic. Considering the intricacy and myriad dynamics involved, life itself is astonishing. That biological systems inherently possess robust conservation coupled with unimaginable flexibility, and have done so since life emerged, is nothing short of miraculous.

Statistical models are well-known for bell-curve bias: taking the average bulk as the message in toto and ignoring the tail (the statistically improbable). Taking a narrow view, Cowperthwaite and company overlook the statistical odds that life could have even formed and ignore weak linkage.

Innumerable impressive real-world adaptive speciations splay such statistical musings as spurious. Any value judgment as to which mutations may be “best” is at best a parlor game for silly evolutionary biologists and makes no sensible impression toward understanding the real world.

The point of this story is that Nature cannot accurately be atomistically characterized, as empirical scientists are wont to do. The Matryoshka nature of Nature belies an overarching design. Trade-offs do occur, but adjudging optimality necessarily involves a skewed perspective. If there is one descriptor that best fits biological evolution, it is “adaptive.”