Chapter 10 The monkey machine

I’ve not read Dawkins’ The Blind Watchmaker, so I don’t know how he describes the purpose of the ‘methinks it is like a weasel’ program. The program shows the difference between a highly improbable set of conditions occurring if the event it is repeated from scratch every single time (the typing monkeys) and the greatly increased likelihood of the event occurring if steps are retained along the way. That’s it.

5 thoughts on “Chapter 10 The monkey machine

    1. winstoninabox Post author

      The programmer’s conclusion is of interest:

      This applet’s ability to guess phrases doesn’t prove that evolution happened, of course. (There’s plenty of evidence for that anyway, with or without my help.) But you should think of this applet when you hear someone claim that “blind chance” couldn’t possibly have produced something as complex as, say, a hemoglobin molecule. When the results are subject to non-random pressures, “blind chance” can do a lot more than your intuition suggests.
      (Mathematically inclined readers may be interested in a technical note about an alternate solution.)

      I don’t want to say that Lennox has built another straw man to whack at, but I can’t see this chapter in a positive light at all. He’s misrepresented the program and what it shows.

      Reply
  1. Marco

    I kind of think Dawkins’ choice of the word “Weasel” opens itself up to similar rhetoric that Winston meted out to the inductivist “Turkey”. Especially in light of the fact that Dawkins was using it as a rhetorical device rather than in a scientific modelling of what actually happens in evolution. Methinks Dawkins was being a weasel.

    I don’t think that this program, although it addresses most of Lennoxes counters, proves that blind chance can generate something. What is generating the target phrase is still the “intelligence” of the algorithm to use the minimum of feedback of information to guess the phrase. Although this might be a reasonable analogy for speciation, I don’t see how it can explain anything about the process of abiogenesis. And even for speciation, it assumes intelligent DNA that knows what to lock away, and knows what to mutate in an analogical way to what this software does. Ie. more algorithm and not just a blueprint for a species.

    Reply
    1. winstoninabox Post author

      I kind of think Dawkins’ choice of the word “Weasel” opens itself up to similar rhetoric that Winston meted out to the inductivist “Turkey”.

      It’s a quote from Hamlet.

      Especially in light of the fact that Dawkins was using it as a rhetorical device rather than in a scientific modelling of what actually happens in evolution. Methinks Dawkins was being a weasel.

      I’m not sure what the rhetorical device is that you think Dawkins was using it as. Wikipedia gives some coverage to the background.

      I don’t think that this program, although it addresses most of Lennoxes counters, proves that blind chance can generate something.

      Uhmmm, well, yes. The point was to show that blind chance won’t produce much at all (that was the monkeys starting from scratch every time), but that the accumulation of adaptations would produce something.

      What is generating the target phrase is still the “intelligence” of the algorithm to use the minimum of feedback of information to guess the phrase.

      Imagine in the output that having an ‘m’ in the first position represents having an adaption that is very a suitable adaption to the environment. And an ‘e’ in the second position is also having an adaption that is very suitable to the environment. And then so on for each position and its corresponding letter. As each adaptation becomes suitable for the environment it is retained. Then the program is not aiming at a target, but rather displaying the adaptions most suitable to the environment. It could possibly be clearer if the phrase was in upper case Times New Roman but the program’s output was in lower case and utilized Times New Roman and other fonts to represent mutations. Thus adaption ‘m’ in any font is very suitable to environmental ‘M’ in Times New Roman. The final output would still be recognizable as the accumulation of very suitable adaptions, but with the different fonts it wouldn’t look exactly like the original, and so confusion with it being the target of directed intelligence might be lessened.

      Reply
    2. Marco

      It’s a quote from Hamlet.
      Well I know that, and it is a fairly well known one, but why pick one with a weasel in it? Of all the Shakespeare he could have chosen. Amongst ID aficionados it is the “weasel program” and I kind of agree with their spirit, just as I kind of agreed with your rhetoric regarding the inductivist turkey.
      Imagine in the output that having an ‘m’ in the first position represents having an adaption that is very a suitable adaption to the environment.………

      From an information technology perspective it is clear what is happening. Very little information is being revealed in each step about the target – the score. An algorithm exists to however learn about the target through repetition and the retention of steps. The most interesting thing about this process is the algorithm – not the fact that the guesses are random, nor the fact that some guesses are selected for with their high score and the retention of their features.

      Similarly for evolution, the interesting things about it are how the process knows what to retain in a way that can actually be modelled. Species are too complex to be modelled, and since we don’t know what happened in crucial early stages of evolution, that can’t be modelled either. At least a model that represents what is really happening, and that only relies on randomness and selection. In the sieving of randomness such that the resultant reflects an adapted form suited to the environmental signal, it is the sieving process that is of scientific interest, not the randomness, nor the fact that adaptations suit the environmental signal.

      Reply

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