Nudge

Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein have written a book entitled Nudge that advocates for a soft version of social engineering.  I have not read the book, but there is a short interview on Amazon.com that cites what I think to be most relevant:

Amazon.com: What do you mean by “nudge” and why do people sometimes need to be nudged?

Thaler and Sunstein: By a nudge we mean anything that influences our choices. A school cafeteria might try to nudge kids toward good diets by putting the healthiest foods at front. We think that it’s time for institutions, including government, to become much more user-friendly by enlisting the science of choice to make life easier for people and by gentling nudging them in directions that will make their lives better.

And

Amazon.com: What is “choice architecture” and how does it affect the average person’s daily life?

Thaler and Sunstein: Choice architecture is the context in which you make your choice. Suppose you go into a cafeteria. What do you see first, the salad bar or the burger and fries stand? Where’s the chocolate cake? Where’s the fruit? These features influence what you will choose to eat, so the person who decides how to display the food is the choice architect of the cafeteria. All of our choices are similarly influenced by choice architects. The architecture includes rules deciding what happens if you do nothing; what’s said and what isn’t said; what you see and what you don’t. Doctors, employers, credit card companies, banks, and even parents are choice architects.

We show that by carefully designing the choice architecture, we can make dramatic improvements in the decisions people make, without forcing anyone to do anything. For example, we can help people save more and invest better in their retirement plans, make better choices when picking a mortgage, save on their utility bills, and improve the environment simultaneously. Good choice architecture can even improve the process of getting a divorce–or (a happier thought) getting married in the first place!

A NYT article explains a very interesting example of nudging:

THE flies in the men’s-room urinals of the Amsterdam airport have been enshrined in the academic literature on economics and psychology. The flies — images of flies, actually — were etched in the porcelain near the urinal drains in an experiment in human behavior.

After the flies were added, “spillage” on the men’s-room floor fell by 80 percent. “Men evidently like to aim at targets,” said Richard Thaler of the University of Chicago, an irreverent pioneer in the increasingly influential field of behavioral economics.

Mr. Thaler says the flies are his favorite example of a “nudge” — a harmless bit of engineering that manages to “attract people’s attention and alter their behavior in a positive way, without actually requiring anyone to do anything at all.” What’s more, he said, “The flies are fun.”

So why mention any of this on The Design Matrix?

Well, I would think it obvious that nudging is essentially the same as front-loading. For example, reword some of those sentences and the meaning doesn’t really change:

“A school cafeteria might try to front-load the choice of good diets by putting the healthiest foods at front.”

“a harmless bit of front-loading that manages to “attract people’s attention and alter their behavior in a positive way, without actually requiring anyone to do anything at all.”

The Nudge approach advocated by Thaler and Sunstein is simply an attempt to alter human behavior by carefully front-loading situations such that they are designed to favor certain responses.

The key to nudging is that it is not determinism or predestination.  And it succeeds given a) a good understanding of human nature when implemented to effect b) large numbers over time.  For example, nudging does not allow us to determine that Ronald Heffer will choose a salad over fries on any particular day.  But it does allow us to successfully expect that a population of lunch eaters will choose salad over fries more often than they would without the nudge.

This whole approach to social engineering comes very close to what I am talking about with biotic design.  Compare.

Nudging: Choice architecture is the context in which you make your choice. Suppose you go into a cafeteria. What do you see first, the salad bar or the burger and fries stand? Where’s the chocolate cake? Where’s the fruit? These features influence what you will choose to eat, so the person who decides how to display the food is the choice architect of the cafeteria. All of our choices are similarly influenced by choice architects. The architecture includes rules deciding what happens if you do nothing; what’s said and what isn’t said; what you see and what you don’t. Doctors, employers, credit card companies, banks, and even parents are choice architects.

We show that by carefully designing the choice architecture, we can make dramatic improvements in the decisions people make, without forcing anyone to do anything.

Front-loading (from The Design Matrix and previous entries on this blog): Front-loading is plausible because, across all forms of life, cells share the same basic architecture and components…..Just as the researchers, as artificial selectors, set up their in vitro selection experiment such that it was rigged to find ATP-binding proteins, so too may life’s initial conditions have been rigged by the design of the cell’s architecture and the choice of which components to employ…..The original sequence, working in conjunction with the genetic code and the rest of the cellular architecture, biased what the second functional gene could look like……To sum up thus far, if we view evolution as a function, it stands to reason that life would be endowed with a tool kit of evolution genes. Such genes would interface with life’s architecture to facilitate evolution…..This interaction would set up a selection pressure that would be guided by the architecture and composition of the bacterial porin and the MTS.


Front-loading would thus take this strategy of nudging, a form of design,  and build it into the “choice architecture” of life – it’s form and composition – to improve the “choices” evolution would subsequently make without “forcing” it to do so.

Nudging/front-loading represent a subtle and sophisticated form of design.  If life’s designer was clever enough to develop carbon-based nanotechnology,  why think anything less subtle and sophisticated was involved with the design of evolution?

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97 responses to “Nudge

  1. Alan,

    “…the careful design of the environments in which people make choices, he said. “If anything you do influences the way people choose, then you are a choice architect,” Thaler said.”

    Let’s rephrase this. A choice architecture is a context that has been set up to favor certain choices. We can then restate this as follows: A choice architecture is a context that has been set up to favor certain outcomes. Agree?

    Also, would you agree with this point?

    The key to nudging is that it is not determinism or predestination. And it succeeds given a) a good understanding of human nature when implemented to effect b) large numbers over time. For example, nudging does not allow us to determine that Ronald Heffer will choose a salad over fries on any particular day. But it does allow us to successfully expect that a population of lunch eaters will choose salad over fries more often than they would without the nudge.

  2. So we have:

    1- Initial conditions-> hungry people and a cafeteria’s set up

    2- A goal/ target- > satisfy hunger

    3- Resources available to achieve goal/ reach target-> food in the cafeteria

    4- Decisions to make along the way-> the (cumulative) selection process

  3. Hi Joe,

    The goal is to influence food choice and the mechanism for doing so is the arrangement/presentation of the food.

  4. Hi Michael,

    I would think that would be part of the selection/ decision process.

    The selection/ decision is influenced as “usually” the line of least resistance is taken.

    And the line of least resistance is the food that is more readily accessible.

    But anyway it is your example- so let me have some coffee and think about it again…

  5. OK-

    The goal of the cafeteria is to influence the consumer’s selection.

    The mechanism they use is food placement- as you said:

    the arrangement/presentation of the food

    They nudge the selection process of the consumers.

    So front-loading would require an initial condition(s), target(s) and a means of reaching that target- choices to be made.

    No choices no nudging. No goal no choices.

    Or is that too bl;ack and white?

  6. A choice architecture is a context that has been set up to favor certain outcomes. Agree?

    In the context of social engineering, yes. It depends how far beyond you want to stretch the analogy to unrelated issues.

    Funnily enough I can see an analogy with environmental selection resulting in change in allele frequency.

  7. No one is debating a change in allele frequency.

    A change in allele frequency does not give rise to novel protein machinery nor novel body parts and body plans.

    As for selection in your scenario- “whatever survives, survives”- in a nutshell…

  8. Alan,

    In the context of social engineering, yes. It depends how far beyond you want to stretch the analogy to unrelated issues.
    Funnily enough I can see an analogy with environmental selection resulting in change in allele frequency.

    Very good. So the analogy can be stretched to biology and evolution. In fact, artificial selection is also a good analogy to nudging, as the controlled breeding would constitute a context set up to favor certain outcomes.

    Now, let’s take the next step. Must the choice architecture/context necessarily be environmental?

  9. Hi Joe,

    So front-loading would require an initial condition(s), target(s) and a means of reaching that target- choices to be made.

    Good. As a working hypothesis, back in 2002, I proposed the target as a multicellular organism. Here is one example of something I posted:

    Yes, an imperfect replicator will necessarily evolve. But this does not mean unicellular organisms will necessarily evolve into a multicellular organism. In fact, a planet-full of unicellular organisms could very well undergo billions and billions of years of darwinian evolution without ever evolving a multicellular organism. My perspective explores the possibility that unicellular organisms were designed in such a way that the evolution of multicellular organisms was made more likely. 5/7/2002

    Since then, I have been exploring the initial conditions and means. FLE has been supported by the findings of various genes in protozoans that were long thought to be specific to multicellular organisms because they played key roles in metazoan development and physiology. In other words, it turns out protozoans have many genes that would function as preadaptations for metazoan emergence. So as far as initial conditions go, the case for my FLE hypothesis is stronger in 2010 than it was in 2002.

    When it comes to the means, I have been recently focused on the ways in which introns, moonlighting ribosomal proteins, and the RNA polymerase (to mention a few) have played roles in the emergence of metazoan complexity.

    https://designmatrix.wordpress.com/2010/05/19/nudging-multicellularity-into-existence/

    https://designmatrix.wordpress.com/2009/06/25/front-loading-with-ribosomes/

    https://designmatrix.wordpress.com/2010/03/30/introns-and-design-2/

    The logic of nudging/front-loading links the initial conditions and means.

  10. Responding to myself from 8 years ago:

    In fact, a planet-full of unicellular organisms could very well undergo billions and billions of years of darwinian evolution without ever evolving a multicellular organism.

    As I explained in my reply to Steve Matheson:

    Prokaryotic cells can be viewed as the highest expression of mutation and selection, for there is no better cellular candidate for a “self-replicator.” Yet after billions of years, the prokaryotic cell plan has failed to achieve anything near the level of structural complexity as exhibited by the eukaryotic cell plan. To reach such structural complexity, the cell design had to be radically retooled, partly through endosymbiotic union, a one-time event given the widely accepted monophyly of eukaryotes. Once the eukaryotic cell design was established, prior to the radiation of all extant eukaryotes, the basic cell design was now capable of supporting the emergence of complex, metazoan life. The evolution of metazoa did not require further extensive retooling of the eukaryotic cell plan, given that metazoan cells are so similar to protozoan cells; it was more like the natural outflow of the potential inherent in the eukaryotic cell plan.

    https://designmatrix.wordpress.com/2010/03/31/cell-plans-and-evolution/

  11. …the controlled breeding would constitute a context set up to favor certain outcomes.

    Sounds more like artificial selection, put like that. On the other hand, it is perhaps an artificial distinction, as human breeders could be viewed as part of the stocks environment as the resultant change in allele frequency is the same process.

    If a designer were real, what would distinguish him from a stock breeder writ large?

  12. Sorry about tags, found myself
    reading the previous comment while typing!

    In fact, a planet-full of unicellular organisms could very well undergo billions and billions of years of darwinian evolution without ever evolving a multicellular organism.

    Taking Earth as an (the only available) example, it took two thousand million years to happen. Whilst your statement is currently speculation with no likelihood of developments from SETI any time soon, I don’t think anyone could raise a serious objection to it.

  13. The evolution of metazoa did not require further extensive retooling of the eukaryotic cell plan, given that metazoan cells are so similar to protozoan cells

    In fact it could be argued that differentiated cells can be simpler than ancestral protozoans not needing the machinery to carry out the complete range of functions that each individual protozoan needs.

    So is the difficulty for evolutionary theory the emergence of eukaryotes or the emergence of multi-cellularity followed by differentiation into specialized cell types within an organism? If your “front loading” idea explains these events more parsimoniously, why not focus on this area?

  14. Steve Matheson’s critique of Mike’s take on introns.

    I see Art Hunt’s comment:

    I notice in your [Matheson’s] discussion of multicellularity in bacteria that you did not mention bacteria like filamentous cyanobacteria, myxobacteria, and some magnetic bacteria. These all have multicellular lifestyles (even obligatorily multicellular) that are quite akin to what we see in filamentous fungi, oomycetes, and the like. That these bacteria have such clear multicellular developmental programs really makes it hard to argue that introns in protein-coding genes are important for multicellularity in a general sense.

  15. Maybe a bit off-topic but Art Hunt and Steve Matheson attended a public Q & A session With Stephen Meyer on his book “Signature in the Cell”

    Art blogs on it.

    …if some protein functions do not require lots of specified information, then these should be quite accessible to what ID proponents would call “Darwinian mechanisms”. This concession has lots of ramifications – it renders Doug Axe’s suggestions about the isolation of functional proteins in sequence space somewhat less relevant, and it weakens the case (I suspect an important aspect of “Darwin’s Dilemma”) that a supposed requirement for new proteins during evolution (such as occurred in the Cambrian Explosion) makes such evolution improbable or impossible, at least without intelligent design.

  16. Alan Fox:

    In fact it could be argued that differentiated cells can be simpler than ancestral protozoans not needing the machinery to carry out the complete range of functions that each individual protozoan needs.

    Good point.

    However your position doesn’t have any explanation for cellular differentiation other than “it just happened”- meaning sheer dumb luck.

  17. Art:

    …if some protein functions do not require lots of specified information, then these should be quite accessible to what ID proponents would call “Darwinian mechanisms”.

    Art makes the all too common mistake of starting with that which needs an explanation in the first place.

    If you are going to start with living organisms then you have to explain them in light of blind, undirected chemical processes.

    Proteins do not spontaneously arise outside of living organisms…

  18. Alan,

    Sounds more like artificial selection, put like that. On the other hand, it is perhaps an artificial distinction, as human breeders could be viewed as part of the stocks environment as the resultant change in allele frequency is the same process.

    Yes, if I understand you correctly, that would be one way to prop up a non-teleological perspective.

    If a designer were real, what would distinguish him from a stock breeder writ large?

    A stock breeder writ large would be an example of a designer.

    Whilst your statement is currently speculation with no likelihood of developments from SETI any time soon, I don’t think anyone could raise a serious objection to it.

    Just as there is no serious objection to front-loading.

    In fact it could be argued that differentiated cells can be simpler than ancestral protozoans not needing the machinery to carry out the complete range of functions that each individual protozoan needs.

    Differentiated cells function as a team in a larger, more complex, system.

    So is the difficulty for evolutionary theory the emergence of eukaryotes or the emergence of multi-cellularity followed by differentiation into specialized cell types within an organism? If your “front loading” idea explains these events more parsimoniously, why not focus on this area?

    I have been focused on these areas for years now.

    Steve Matheson’s critique of Mike’s take on introns.

    The critique failed.

    I notice in your [Matheson’s] discussion of multicellularity in bacteria that you did not mention bacteria like filamentous cyanobacteria, myxobacteria, and some magnetic bacteria. These all have multicellular lifestyles (even obligatorily multicellular) that are quite akin to what we see in filamentous fungi, oomycetes, and the like. That these bacteria have such clear multicellular developmental programs really makes it hard to argue that introns in protein-coding genes are important for multicellularity in a general sense.

    This comment fails as an objection, as my hypothesis was clearly stated as introns facilitated the evolution of metazoan life, not introns facilitated the evolution of multicellularity in a general sense. Furthermore, as I explained in my response, this point actually supports my position:

    “Yes, I have already noted that bacteria can form multicellular assemblages. If someone were to ask another crazy question, “Where are the prokaryotic mold?”, I could say, “Over there – check out the actinobacteria.” It’s another remarkable example of convergence.

    The fact that bacteria actually do form multicellular assemblages and know how to live in complex and cooperative environments underscores my position. Apparently, it’s not enough for a cell to know how to live in complex and cooperative environments, to communicate with each other, and to have the ability to undergo extensive adaptation. While all these facts apply to bacteria, we are still left with the fact that they remain structurally simple relative to eukaryotes. So my hypothesis is simple – they remain structurally simple because this simple cell plan is inadequate for the task of evolving something akin to a mouse. So let’s make it more interesting and ponder what is the specific problem(s)? That’s where the whole intron discuss came in.”

    Maybe a bit off-topic

    Completely off-topic as front-loading does depend on the existence of “isolation of functional proteins in sequence space.”

    Back to the relation between front-loading and nudging. We both agree that nudging can be viewed as a decent analogy for evolution. So let’s return to my unanswered question – “Now, let’s take the next step. Must the choice architecture/context necessarily be environmental?”

  19. front-loading does depend on the existence of “isolation of functional proteins in sequence space.”

    This is a first, Mike; a positive statement about front loading. How does FLE depend on the existence of “isolation of functional proteins in sequence space”.

  20. Just as there is no serious objection to front-loading.

    Well, exactly! We are not yet at the point of establishing what FLE is or what it can tell us.

  21. I have been focused on these areas for years now.

    So, is the emergence of the eucaryote cell (where symbiogenesis is the widespread explanation, and that process can be observed in sea slugs, for example, today, and if common descent is true, only needed to happen once) better explained by FLE?

    Or is it the emergence of multicellularity? (I guess not, reading comment above)

    So is the central point cell specialization and organization in multicellular organisms? Is this where FLE scores?

  22. The critique failed.

    You know, I am not sure you are an unbiased judge on that issue. 😉

    …we are still left with the fact that they remain structurally simple relative to eukaryotes. So my hypothesis is simple – they remain structurally simple because this simple cell plan is inadequate for the task of evolving something akin to a mouse.

    But this is just an argument from incredulity. What drives evolution is environmental pressure. If a stable environmental niche remains exploitable when why should change occur?

  23. So let’s return to my unanswered question – “Now, let’s take the next step. Must the choice architecture/context necessarily be environmental?”

    In what context? I suspect that “choice architecture” works as social engineering.
    I already agreed that there is an analogy for natural selection here. If you think there is another analogy to see, by all means, set it out.

  24. This is a first, Mike; a positive statement about front loading.

    Another false statement. I have made many positive statements about front-loading.

    How does FLE depend on the existence of “isolation of functional proteins in sequence space”.

    It doesn’t. That was a typo and should have read “front-loading does not depend on the existence of “isolation of functional proteins in sequence space.” That’s why it was off topic.

    Well, exactly! We are not yet at the point of establishing what FLE is or what it can tell us.

    I have been explaining what FLE is and what it can tell us for years. Your inability to follow the argument (if you can bring yourself to read it, that is) is not my problem.

    So, is the emergence of the eucaryote cell (where symbiogenesis is the widespread explanation, and that process can be observed in sea slugs, for example, today, and if common descent is true, only needed to happen once) better explained by FLE?

    You forgot the central metaphor – it doesn’t have to be better. Only a reasonable and plausible alternative. I have been gradually building the case here that the emergence of the eukaryotic cell plan was facilitated by preadaptations and terraforming. It’s a work in progress.

    So is the central point cell specialization and organization in multicellular organisms? Is this where FLE scores?

    You forgot the central metaphor – it doesn’t have to be better. Only a reasonable and plausible alternative. I have been gradually building the case here that the emergence of metazoan-type complexity was facilitated by preadaptations and terraforming. It’s a work in progress.

    You know, I am not sure you are an unbiased judge on that issue.

    And who is? You? Are there any serious objections to my response?

    But this is just an argument from incredulity.

    First, why can’t you admit that that particular objection (multicellular bacteria) to my position failed and actually supports my position? Why change the topic?

    Second, it is not an argument for incredulity; it is an observation that has generated a testable hypothesis which in turn is supported by evidence.

    What drives evolution is environmental pressure. If a stable environmental niche remains exploitable when why should change occur?

    That’s one possible way of viewing things. So why not do as I did and turn it into a testable hypothesis and find supporting evidence? For example, what kind of niche is needed, as sufficient cause, for transforming the bacterial cell plan into something like the eukaryotic cell plan?

    In what context?

    LOL. For all that feigned interest in front-loading, you seem apprehensive about simple questions designed to help explain FLE. It’s a simple question – must the choice architecture/context necessarily be environmental? A ‘yes’ or ‘no’ would do.

    I suspect that “choice architecture” works as social engineering. I already agreed that there is an analogy for natural selection here.

    Very good. So you concede that evolution by natural selection can be influenced by design.

  25. It doesn’t.

    Sorry, Mike, that was a bit mean of me, but I couldn’t resist!

  26. Are there any serious objections to my response?

    Who might object? Is it unfair to point out that nobody working in biology or related fields is showing much interest?

  27. It’s a simple question – must the choice architecture/context necessarily be environmental? A ‘yes’ or ‘no’ would do.

    In the context of “nudging” human choice in a social context, yes. In any other context, I don’t understand the question as asked.

  28. So you concede that evolution by natural selection can be influenced by design.

    More than that! With RM + NS, the environment is the designer. What do you mean by “influenced by design”? What do you mean by “design” as this implies some conscious designing going on?

  29. I have been gradually building the case here that the emergence of metazoan-type complexity was facilitated by preadaptations and terraforming.

    So could we focus on this?

  30. I think I am going to take a break from commenting here until your book arrives. I will look in to see if you post that “FLE for Dummies” thread, though.

  31. Sorry, Mike, that was a bit mean of me, but I couldn’t resist!

    LOL.

    Who might object?

    Anyone who thinks the critique of my hypothesis was valid.

    Is it unfair to point out that nobody working in biology or related fields is showing much interest?

    Nope. As psychology teaches us, people prefer that which better suits their comfort zone.

    In the context of “nudging” human choice in a social context, yes. In any other context, I don’t understand the question as asked.

    Okay, let’s focus on human choice. Do you accept the idea that a person’s genetics can predispose them to make certain choices?

    More than that! With RM + NS, the environment is the designer.

    More accurately – a designer mimic. A designer with no mind’s eye.

    What do you mean by “influenced by design”?

    Draw from nudging – the choice architecture is a design that influences the choices that are made.

    What do you mean by “design” as this implies some conscious designing going on?

    Conscious designing of the choice architecture.

    So could we focus on this?

    I’ve been focused on it. See the blog entry that sits at the top of the page for the last few days.

    I think I am going to take a break from commenting here until your book arrives. I will look in to see if you post that “FLE for Dummies” thread, though.

    Sounds like you have lost interest in FLE. 😉

  32. Sounds like you have lost interest in FLE.

    Not yet! Just only have the odd few minutes to spare at the moment.

    Okay, let’s focus on human choice. Do you accept the idea that a person’s genetics can predispose them to make certain choices?

    I think it highly likely.

    Conscious designing of the choice architecture.

    Terra-forming the environment to ensure the environmental design pressure produces the desired result?

  33. Alan,

    If it’s highly likely that our genetics influence our choices, could it be highly likely that the genetics of the first cells influenced their “choices”?

  34. Were first cells intellectually capable of making choices? I suspect not.

  35. I think it highly likely.

    Very good. So the context that influences choice does not necessarily need to be environmental. The choice can be influenced by both environmental and genetic contexts. In principle then, the choice architecture behind the nudge can be internal/genetic.

    Terra-forming the environment to ensure the environmental design pressure produces the desired result?

    That would be part of the story. Oxygen is a biological output that, in turn, creates a new context to elicit further changes. Rising levels of oxygen are correlated to the two most radical transformations in evolution – the origin of eukarya and the origin of metazoa. There is no reason to think something as complex as the eukaryotic cell, or the metazoan body plan, would have emerged without oxygen.

  36. Were first cells intellectually capable of making choices? I suspect not.

    First of all, Bilbo put “choices” in quotes. If you are sincere in understanding front-loading, you should follow through on the logic instead of looking for the first convenient off ramp.

    Second, to what degree are the choices influenced by nudging truly an expression of the “intellect?”

    Third, while cell’s do not have intellects, it may not be terribly misleading to think of them as making choices. As one working biologist published, “Moreover, successful application of either strategy requires a level of memory and information processing that has not been normally associated with single cells, suggesting that such organisms do in fact have the capacity to ‘think’. – https://designmatrix.wordpress.com/2009/11/01/do-cells-think/

    You also should read this essay:

    https://designmatrix.wordpress.com/2009/12/13/smart-and-smarter/

  37. There is no reason to think something as complex as the eukaryotic cell, or the metazoan body plan, would have emerged without oxygen.

    There is no way of forming any conclusion at all, really. Sure, atmospheric oxygen is a fundamental requisite for all metazoa but we don’t know what else might work given the “right” environment.

  38. If you are sincere in understanding front-loading, you should follow through on the logic instead of looking for the first convenient off ramp.

    In fact, the issue of what is the driving force, whether the organism shapes the environment, the environment shapes the organism and whether God has overarching control through shaping the organism and the environment would seem to be relevant to your FLE.

  39. Third, while cell’s do not have intellects, it may not be terribly misleading to think of them as making choices.

    I have no problem with, for example, the “tumble or swim” choice of motile bacteria that maintains them in a local optimum food concentration. Extrapolating from that to some kind of anticipatory or predictive behaviour is taking the analogy further than it can reasonably stretch.

  40. Alan,

    There is no way of forming any conclusion at all, really. Sure, atmospheric oxygen is a fundamental requisite for all metazoa but we don’t know what else might work given the “right” environment.

    Ah, perhaps now you can grasp the true significance of the Rabbit/Duck. There is no way of forming any conclusion at all translates as ambiguity. You may be right in that there are many ways to spawn something equivalent to metazoan. On the other hand, maybe oxygen is a necessary requirement. Or maybe its simply the most effective way. Duck. Rabbit. So, we must each choose. From where I sit, I can take the notion of oxygen as necessary or most effective, treat it as a working hypothesis, and build from there. And to do this, I do not need to somehow prove there are no other “right” environments.

    In fact, the issue of what is the driving force, whether the organism shapes the environment, the environment shapes the organism and whether God has overarching control through shaping the organism and the environment would seem to be relevant to your FLE.

    Sure. One of Chiras’ rules of critical thinking is “look for multiple cause and effect.” I think that applies with FLE. It’s more an issue of sorting out than ruling out.

    My FLE hypothesis does not build on the question, “Did a designer design evolution?” It builds on the question, “How might a designer design evolution.”

    I have no problem with, for example, the “tumble or swim” choice of motile bacteria that maintains them in a local optimum food concentration. Extrapolating from that to some kind of anticipatory or predictive behaviour is taking the analogy further than it can reasonably stretch.

    I agree with you here. But when Bilbo asked, “If it’s highly likely that our genetics influence our choices, could it be highly likely that the genetics of the first cells influenced their “choices”?”, we don’t need to maintain that cells rely on anticipatory or predictive behaviour. Bilbo’s question gets to an important aspect of front-loading and that is the context that nudges the “choices” (or outcomes, if you prefer) does not need to be environmental.

    Once we can envision front-loading as involving an intrinsic context, we can take the next step.

  41. Ah, perhaps now you can grasp the true significance of the Rabbit/Duck. There is no way of forming any conclusion at all translates as ambiguity.

    If by ambiguity you mean an expression open to more than one meaning, fair enough but “ambi-” (from amphi-) originally meant “both” which invites the same objection as “Duck or Rabbit”.

    It is like the Sherlock Holmes fallacy “…when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth…”. Dichotomies are usually false.

  42. It builds on the question, “How might a designer design evolution.”

    So…

    How might a designer design evolution?

  43. …the context that nudges the “choices” (or outcomes, if you prefer) does not need to be environmental.

    I am quite swayed by the idea that the environment designs by the process of natural selection. The raw material is variation and mutations, duplications, symbiogenesis etc etc are proposed sources of variation for NS to sift through. You state that FLE operates in addition to these processes, so is this the part that “does not need to be environmental”? Can you elaborate?

  44. Once we can envision front-loading as involving an intrinsic context, we can take the next step.

    Well, to make sense, in that organisms are in lock-step with their niches, that has to be true.

  45. If by ambiguity you mean an expression open to more than one meaning, fair enough

    Ambiguous in the sense that maybe there are many, many ways to evolve something akin to metazoans or maybe oxygen is required or the most effective way. You seem to opt for the former view, while I opt for the latter view. Neither one of us is in the position to declare we are right or have the best explanation. All I can say is that my position is reasonable, falsifiable, and can generate testable hypotheses.

    Dichotomies are usually false.

    Nevertheless, the evolution vs. design dichotomy has captured the minds of many people on both sides of the aisle.

    How might a designer design evolution?

    By setting up a choice architecture, intrinsic to life itself, that will subsequently nudge subsequent evolution in certain directions.

    I am quite swayed by the idea that the environment designs by the process of natural selection.

    I think you are understating your position, as you come across as one who is deeply devoted to that idea. It is the conventional way of thinking that has conditioned many educated people. But it represents a superficial way of viewing life and design.

    The raw material is variation and mutations, duplications, symbiogenesis etc etc are proposed sources of variation for NS to sift through.

    Those devoted to the “Environment as Designer” tend to gloss over such variation, treating them as boring brute givens, while focusing only on the “sifting” of NS.

    You state that FLE operates in addition to these processes, so is this the part that “does not need to be environmental”? Can you elaborate?

    As genetic predispositions teach us, the cause behind the nudge does need to be environmental. The biotic context itself can nudge and channel future outcomes. Didn’t you ever pause to wonder why it is that so much of evolutionary change is rooted in the duplication and tweaking of previous genes? Didn’t you ever pause to wonder why the diversity of life is mostly skin deep?

    Well, to make sense, in that organisms are in lock-step with their niches, that has to be true.

    Its truth does not depend on organisms being in “lock-step with their niches.” The “choices” that any lineage has are constrained by the biological context that defines that lineage. In fact, it is this biological context that helps to define and shape the niche.

  46. …maybe there are many, many ways to evolve something akin to metazoans or maybe oxygen is required or the most effective way. You seem to opt for the former view, while I opt for the latter view.

    I regard myself only as an interested observer, a member of the audience, occasionally moved to boo or clap the performance. I have no vested interest in any particular explanation other than it be a good one.

  47. All I can say is that my position is reasonable, falsifiable, and can generate testable hypotheses.

    All you can say? If your position (that FLE is a genuine process?) can generate hypotheses, could you not at least list an example. I would be most interested in reading a clear statement of such a hypothesis.

  48. Didn’t you ever pause to wonder why it is that so much of evolutionary change is rooted in the duplication and tweaking of previous genes?

    On the contrary, gene duplication seems a process well supported by evidence.

    Didn’t you ever pause to wonder why the diversity of life is mostly skin deep?

    In my view , the strongest evidence for common descent is the remarkable similarity of all life-forms at the biochemical level.

  49. As genetic predispositions teach us, the cause behind the nudge does need to be environmental. The biotic context itself can nudge and channel future outcomes.

    Are these statements intended to convey information?

  50. I regard myself only as an interested observer, a member of the audience, occasionally moved to boo or clap the performance. I have no vested interest in any particular explanation other than it be a good one.

    There is no evidence to support your self-perception as some type of objective judge, Alan. On the contrary, all the evidence points to a rather biased person who comes to the table with a preconceived position and agenda.

    Back to the point – Ambiguous in the sense that maybe there are many, many ways to evolve something akin to metazoans or maybe oxygen is required or the most effective way. Don’t you agree?

    All you can say?

    Well, has the ambiguity been resolved and, if so, by whom?

    If your position (that FLE is a genuine process?) can generate hypotheses, could you not at least list an example. I would be most interested in reading a clear statement of such a hypothesis.

    I’ve provided you the links before, but as usual, your interest seems feigned. Since I’m often willing to walk that extra mile, here y’go again: Here and here.

    On the contrary, gene duplication seems a process well supported by evidence.

    There is no “on the contrary” as we both agree that gene duplication is a process that is well supported by evidence. I asked if you had ever pondered why it is that that so much of evolutionary change is rooted in the duplication of pre-existing functional genes. After all, this is a pattern that is very friendly to the hypothesis of front-loading.

    In my view , the strongest evidence for common descent is the remarkable similarity of all life-forms at the biochemical level.

    Agreed. So take the next step and ponder why this remarkable similarity of all life-forms at the biochemical level has remained. And then consider its implications. The remarkable similarity is around 3.5 billion years old and if this similarity overlaps significantly with the choice architecture of life, we can begin to see how an ancient design exerts its influence over the entire tree of life. Remember, you did ask how a designer might design evolution.

    Are these statements intended to convey information?

    Yes. You wanted me to explain FLE to you and I have been patiently doing so. We agreed that nudging represents a good analogy for evolution and design. However, the sticking point seems to be your devotion to the idea that the only the environment can be the designer. So you can envision a nudge from the environment, but you cannot seem to process the fact that the nudge can come from the internal context of life itself. In your mind, the only thing interesting that life has to offer is tiny little variations.

    Alas, I am becoming pessimistic about your ability to grasp the central idea of front-loading. But I will keep trying.

  51. Pingback: Designing Evolution «

  52. AF:

    How might a designer design evolution?

    MG:

    By setting up a choice architecture, intrinsic to life itself, that will subsequently nudge subsequent evolution in certain directions.

    Do you mean that “the designer” designs the environment to produce the intended result? How is this different from, say, theistic evolution? Just calling something “nudging” (and an analogy from social engineering) is not really an explanation. What do suggest is happening when “the designer” nudges whatever it is that it nudges? How do you envisage this nudging process? What is going on physically?

    A few quotes taken from the threads you link to.

    I have proposed a modest front-loading hypothesis where unicellular life was designed to frontload the appearance of metazoan life.

    But such intron loss does not appear to be rare in single-celled eukaryotic organisms.Now why is that? Add it all up, and it indicates introns are playing some role in metazoan life and this would support my hypothesis that introns facilitate the evolutionary spread of metazoans.

    With introns, one can spawn dozens of proteins, all variants on a theme. And this looks like a designed search strategy.

    Not only do introns appear to facilitate the evolution of metazoans, it may be the case they facilitate the evolution of complexity among metazoans.

    Are these key to establishing what you are proposing? Are you actually proposing a mechanism? What does “designed to frontload” actually mean?

  53. Hi Alan,

    Do you mean that “the designer” designs the environment to produce the intended result?

    For the last several replies, I have been trying to get you to see that the environment need not be the source of the nudge. Re-read what I wrote – “By setting up a choice architecture, intrinsic to life itself, that will subsequently nudge subsequent evolution in certain directions.” Intrinsic to life. The nudge is biochemical, not environmental.

    How is this different from, say, theistic evolution?

    There are all kinds of versions of theistic evolution. I can say that my hypothesis is original and unique. If you can find a theistic evolutionist who is saying the same thing, just let me know.

    Just calling something “nudging” (and an analogy from social engineering) is not really an explanation.

    The analogy from social engineering analogy should help you understand what I mean by the design of evolution. Nudging should help you see that we’re not talking about deterministic programs or continual designer interventions.

    What do suggest is happening when “the designer” nudges whatever it is that it nudges?

    See my new blog entry: “So if we posit that the original life forms were designed, instead of viewing the composition and architecture of life as something that natural forces cannot possibly account for, consider the more tantalizing possibility that the composition and architecture of the first cells as representing a choice architecture designed to influence/nudge the “choices” made during subsequent evolution. The manner in which the various pieces and parts of life were hooked up would represent the architecture of life and this, in turn, would amount to a logic that would help guide and facilitate subsequent evolution. The actual pieces and parts of life would represent the composition of life and this, in turn, would amount to various preadaptations that would favor certain evolutionary trajectories over others.”

    How do you envisage this nudging process? What is going on physically?

    RM + NS occurring in a specific context – the context that is defined by the architecture and composition of life itself. Think of the manner in which point mutations are constrained by the genetic code. Think of the overwhelming role gene duplication has played in evolution. Think of the manner in which preadaptations have helped to facilitate evolutionary transitions. There is a form and logic to evolution. We can almost think of evolution as akin to a physiological process.

    Are these key to establishing what you are proposing?

    I’m not sure they are “key.” I simply answered your request for an example of FLE generating a testable hypothesis.

    Are you actually proposing a mechanism?

    What I am proposing is that introns, not needed for cellular life, and scored as “bad design” by some working biologists, have played a key role in the emergence of metazoan-type complexity. I just found another paper that adds further support to my hypothesis and I will be blogging about it soon.

    What does “designed to frontload” actually mean?

    Yeah, that’s an awkward sentence. Let me rephrase it: “I have proposed a modest front-loading hypothesis where unicellular life was designed to facilitate the appearance of metazoan life.” This hypothesis has been supported by the findings of science over the last decade. For example, working biologists were shocked and surprised to find that some unicellular protists contain various genes that were long thought to be specific to metazoan development. There is no shock and surprise from the perspective of FLE, as this is what it would expect.

  54. The nudge is biochemical, not environmental.

    OK!

    So, prior to FLE event, an organism has a particular physical structure and subsequent to the event, that physical structure has changed?

    For that to matter, the change needs to occur in that part of the physical structure that is heritable, no? For example a change in the genome? You could, perhaps, describe it as a mutation? So what is the mechanism that produces the change? How does it happen? How could you tell that this change was not random or spontaneous?

  55. What I am proposing is that introns, not needed for cellular life, and scored as “bad design” by some working biologists, have played a key role in the emergence of metazoan-type complexity.

    So, is the argument that introns turn up before they are needed, so that selection will not favour their retention in the genome? Therefore they must get there by being “nudged” into the genome? Do sufficient nudges keep occurring to counteract drift? If introns (or their homologues) have no function in choanoflagellates why are they conserved? More nudging?

    I can’t ignore the

  56. Oops!

    I can’t ignore the Gorilla on the couch anymore. If a biochemical change occurs that is not spontaneous, then there must be a mechanism. If a designer is bringing about this biochemical change, how is it being done?

    I have an image of the designer playing soccer. My telephoto camera zooms in on the ball – the ball deforms as though being struck by an invisible foot – and – Goal!!!

    But I think you already said that the design process is real and observable?

  57. For example, working biologists were shocked and surprised to find that some unicellular protists contain various genes that were long thought to be specific to metazoan development.

    Sounds dramatic. Who actually expressed shock over the discovery of homologues to human genes in choanoflagellates?

    I found this.

  58. Oops again!

    For “human” insert “metazoan”.

  59. OT @Bilbo

    I don’t know if you are still active at TT but you may want to alert Bradford to Jeff Shallit’s post. I’d do it myself, but…

  60. Oops, wrong thread!

  61. So, prior to FLE event, an organism has a particular physical structure and subsequent to the event, that physical structure has changed?

    No, I envision the front-loaded state to coincide either with the origin of life or the origin of the universe. So we’re not talking about organisms prior to “FLE event.”

    Think in terms of synthetic biology. When designing synthetic cells, do you think it will ever be possible for human designers to design the cells in a way that might influence the cell’s subsequent evolution? Or will that be impossible?

    For that to matter, the change needs to occur in that part of the physical structure that is heritable, no? For example a change in the genome? You could, perhaps, describe it as a mutation? So what is the mechanism that produces the change? How does it happen? How could you tell that this change was not random or spontaneous?

    All of these questions miss the point, as FLE is not about the designer inserting mutations into the genome. FLE is about the manner in which the choice architecture of the cell channels these mutations.

    So, is the argument that introns turn up before they are needed, so that selection will not favour their retention in the genome? Therefore they must get there by being “nudged” into the genome? Do sufficient nudges keep occurring to counteract drift? If introns (or their homologues) have no function in choanoflagellates why are they conserved? More nudging?

    No, FLE does not entail any “must get there by being nudged” position. FLE proposes the testable hypothesis that introns facilitated the emergence of metazoan-type complexity. The fact that introns are not needed for cellular life can be viewed as an echo of foresight. What would you count as evidence of foresight in evolution?

    I can’t ignore the Gorilla on the couch anymore. If a biochemical change occurs that is not spontaneous, then there must be a mechanism. If a designer is bringing about this biochemical change, how is it being done?

    The gorilla exists only in your mind, Alan. And this is blinding you to the logic of nudging. FLE is not about a designer intervening to bring about biochemical changes. That would be like arguing that Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein had to be in the cafeteria to get people’s food for them.

    I have an image of the designer playing soccer. My telephoto camera zooms in on the ball – the ball deforms as though being struck by an invisible foot – and – Goal!!!

    Why in the world would you have that image?

    Sounds dramatic. Who actually expressed shock over the discovery of homologues to human genes in choanoflagellates?
    I found this.

    Here’s the lead author of that paper:

    King’s earliest experiments helped confirm that choanoflagellates are indeed closely related to animals. Next, she and her colleagues surveyed the organism’s genes at a high level and quickly discovered that it contains genes that were previously thought to only exist in animals. The big surprise was that two of those genes are actually used by animals to express proteins for cell adhesion and cell communication. In other words, a single-celled animal is making proteins that are seemingly essential only to multicellular animals.

    “It’s amazing.” King says. “We interpret that as evidence that some of the protein machinery for multicellularity actually evolved before the origin of animals, before multicellularity itself. The proteins predated their current function in animals.”
    [….]
    “I was surprised to learn that so much of animal biology was in place before the origin of animals,” King says. “And I think that’s what motivates most scientists–not learning that you were right, but learning that you were wrong.”

  62. Alan,

    I’ve been trying to answer all your questions, so do you think you can return the courtesy? I asked: “Back to the point – Ambiguous in the sense that maybe there are many, many ways to evolve something akin to metazoans or maybe oxygen is required or the most effective way. Don’t you agree?”

  63. No, I envision the front-loaded state to coincide either with the origin of life or the origin of the universe. So we’re not talking about organisms prior to “FLE event.”

    Oh dear, now I am even more confused. So FLE occurs before evolution and at or prior to abiogenesis. So if there is no temporal overlap with evolutionary processes, we can forget anything to do with evolution as it is not relevant and concentrate on whether FLE is a plausible explanation for abiopgenesis?

  64. Ambiguous in the sense that maybe there are many, many ways to evolve something akin to metazoans or maybe oxygen is required or the most effective way. Don’t you agree?”

    It’s hard not to agree with my geocentric bias. And there are only 90 odd elements to work with so it is indeed hard not to assume that oxygen would be a major player in any kind of extra terrestrial life-form.

    I still think we can only really say we only have this current Earthly example and cannot extrapolate meaningfully.

  65. All of these questions miss the point, as FLE is not about the designer inserting mutations into the genome. FLE is about the manner in which the choice architecture of the cell channels these mutations.

    So is there a process whereby mutations are channelled rather than being spontaneous? Is this process observable or can it merely be inferred from circumstantial evidence?

  66. FLE is not about a designer intervening to bring about biochemical changes.

    This may not be intentional, Mike, but I seem to keep getting answers telling me what FLE is not but still not many clues as to what it is.

  67. Nicole King is also quoted by “Right now, we’re very interested in understanding how the proteins function in choanoflagellates and to use that as a tool in investigating what they might have been doing in the common ancestor,” she says (no more recently than late 2005.

    From her webpage her latest paper is still in review but is a recent piece.

  68. Here is a recent piece.

  69. From this paper

    Unexpectedly, we found that core components of the integrin adhesion complex are encoded in the genome of the apusozoan protist Amastigomonas sp., and therefore their origins predate the divergence of Opisthokonta, the clade that includes metazoans and fungi. Furthermore, our analyses suggest that key components of this apparatus have been lost independently in fungi and choanoflagellates. Our data highlight the fact that many of the key genes that had formerly been cited as crucial for metazoan origins have a much earlier origin. This underscores the importance of gene cooption in the unicellular-to-multicellular transition that led to the emergence of the Metazoa.

  70. Alan,

    Oh dear, now I am even more confused. So FLE occurs before evolution and at or prior to abiogenesis.

    Given that FLE stands for front-loaded evolution, I would have thought it rather clear that the term ‘front-load’ clearly signaled this.

    So if there is no temporal overlap with evolutionary processes, we can forget anything to do with evolution as it is not relevant and concentrate on whether FLE is a plausible explanation for abiopgenesis?

    No, the front-loaded state is about designing the future through the present. The whole idea behind FLE is to investigate how evolution may have been subsequently shaped by such front-loading.

    You really should think about my question concerning synthetic biology: “Think in terms of synthetic biology. When designing synthetic cells, do you think it will ever be possible for human designers to design the cells in a way that might influence the cell’s subsequent evolution? Or will that be impossible?”

    Lynn Rothschild recently published a paper in BioEssays and she is another scientist just beginning to think about evolution in relation to synthetic biology. She notes something very similar to what I noted in the DM: “Thus, even synthetically created biological systems will, once created, operate under the rules of evolution.”

    Design, followed by evolution. The question that FLE explores is the manner in which such designed could shape and influence the evolution that follows. Why would you want to forget about evolution?

    It’s hard not to agree with my geocentric bias. And there are only 90 odd elements to work with so it is indeed hard not to assume that oxygen would be a major player in any kind of extra terrestrial life-form.

    I still think we can only really say we only have this current Earthly example and cannot extrapolate meaningfully.

    Wouldn’t it have been easier to say, “Yes Mike, I agree this is an ambiguous situation.” Then you might be able to finally grasp the significance of the Duck/Rabbit.

    So is there a process whereby mutations are channelled rather than being spontaneous? Is this process observable or can it merely be inferred from circumstantial evidence?

    The sentence you quoted clearly spells out it is the choice architecture of the cell that channels these mutations. Consider two specific examples. First, the genetic code. When point mutations occur that result in a missense mutation, newly encoded amino acid is not a random draw from the set of twenty. The genetic code, in effect, guides the point mutations. Second, gene duplication. Once a gene is duplicated, the search through mutagenesis is not truly random, but is instead anchored to the original duplicated sequence and is thus channeled by the original duplicated sequence.

    This may not be intentional, Mike, but I seem to keep getting answers telling me what FLE is not but still not many clues as to what it is.

    I have been patiently explaining what FLE is. Periodically, I need to remind you what it is not as you seem to be viewing FLE through the Traditional Template, misguidedly expecting it to be rooted in some gap.

    Sincere thanks for the King stuff. Sadly, I see you were not able to bring yourself to type, “It looks like you were right, Mike, as King was surprised by that finding, just as you said.”

  71. When designing synthetic cells, do you think it will ever be possible for human designers to design the cells in a way that might influence the cell’s subsequent evolution? Or will that be impossible?

    There is no way to predict the future. So I don’t know what human designers may be capable of at some future time. But “in a way that might influence the cell’s subsequent evolution”? I have no idea how this would work.

  72. I would have thought it rather clear that the term ‘front-load’ clearly signaled this.

    But front loaded evolution? I interpreted the phrase that the idea was an alternative to mainstream evolution. Never mind, you have cleared this up now. 🙂

  73. No, the front-loaded state is about designing the future through the present. The whole idea behind FLE is to investigate how evolution may have been subsequently shaped by such front-loading.

    How indeed! What about “No, I envision the front-loaded state to coincide either with the origin of life or the origin of the universe.”?

  74. Lynn Rothschild recently published a paper in BioEssays

    I can only find the abstract, is the full paper available?

    “Thus, even synthetically created biological systems will, once created, operate under the rules of evolution.”

    Trial and error, very effective.

  75. Why would you want to forget about evolution?

    Why would you want to put words in my mouth ? Why would you think that I would want to forget about evolution?

  76. Wouldn’t it have been easier to say, “Yes Mike, I agree this is an ambiguous situation.”

    Ambiguous is an ambiguous word. I like what I wrote.

    Then you might be able to finally grasp the significance of the Duck/Rabbit.

    It is not a question of grasping anything. Your metaphor might appeal to you and others. I’m afraid it only seems a distraction to me.

  77. First, the genetic code. When point mutations occur that result in a missense mutation, newly encoded amino acid is not a random draw from the set of twenty.

    As there are six codons for leucine and one for tryptophan, the odds of a SNP resulting in a leucine codon is higher than for the single tryptophan codon and you can only get a tryptophan if two of the nucleotides are already correct, I agree. But, so what?

  78. Second, gene duplication. Once a gene is duplicated, the search through mutagenesis is not truly random, but is instead anchored to the original duplicated sequence and is thus channeled by the original duplicated sequence.

    Of course. Small steps via viable (non-lethal) intermediates.

  79. I need to remind you what it is not as you seem to be viewing FLE through the Traditional Template, misguidedly expecting it to be rooted in some gap.

    What you feel you need to do is up to you. If I find an approach is not working, I try something else.

    I still have no clear idea of what you envisage by front loading. You continue to keep telling me what it is not.

  80. I see you were not able to bring yourself to type, “It looks like you were right, Mike, as King was surprised by that finding, just as you said.”

    Half right – she was not shocked.

    Mike, I try to avoid personal remarks as they only distract and am trying not to be irritated by your often supercilious tone. I put it down to a sort of verbal tick along with some of your other verbal idiosyncrasies. So don’t take my lack of effusiveness personally.

  81. Pingback: A Nudge Goes Deeper «

  82. There is no way to predict the future.

    So we cannot predict that 10 million years from now, all life forms on this planet will be using the same genetic code and the same set of 20 amino acids? I think we can reasonably predict that.

    So I don’t know what human designers may be capable of at some future time. But “in a way that might influence the cell’s subsequent evolution”? I have no idea how this would work.

    That’s okay. But unless you can come up with a powerful argument that it would be impossible for synthetic biologists to influence the subsequent evolution of their designed cells, you have no real argument against FLE.

    Trial and error, very effective.

    Indeed. And perhaps even more effective if the choice architecture facilitates this process. The point you seem to be missing is that Rothschild recognizes synthetically created biological systems will, once created, operate under the rules of evolution. Design, then evolution.
    In fact, Rothschild writes something else (although she never goes as far with this as I do):

    For the tinkerer, the premium is on utilizing (exapting) existing components in novel ways.(14) But a certain amount of ‘‘preadaptation’’ – having the ‘‘right’’ parts already available – is helpful.

    Yep, preadaptation is helpful. That’s one way to nudge.

    Ambiguous is an ambiguous word. I like what I wrote.

    LOL. You are uncomfortable agreeing with me and cannot acknowledge when I make a valid point. 😉

    Why would you want to put words in my mouth ? Why would you think that I would want to forget about evolution?

    From your mouth: “we can forget anything to do with evolution as it is not relevant.”

    What about “No, I envision the front-loaded state to coincide either with the origin of life or the origin of the universe.”?

    Think about the nudging as a form of social engineering:

    Thaler and Sunstein: By a nudge we mean anything that influences our choices. A school cafeteria might try to nudge kids toward good diets by putting the healthiest foods at front.

    It’s safe to say that the healthiest foods would be placed at front prior to the kids entering the cafeteria. That’s when the front-loading would occur. Once the kids enter, and the choice architecture begins to bias their choices. That’s when the front-loading exerts its influence.

    As there are six codons for leucine and one for tryptophan, the odds of a SNP resulting in a leucine codon is higher than for the single tryptophan codon and you can only get a tryptophan if two of the nucleotides are already correct, I agree. But, so what?

    It’s a nice, simple example that helps illustrate how the architecture of life channels mutations. A clever designer could build on this insight.

    Of course. Small steps via viable (non-lethal) intermediates.

    Sure. No one ever argued that point mutations did not happen or that point mutations cannot be part of evolution or that point mutations cannot generate viable intermediates. That whole “small step” issue (from another thread) revolves around the insistence that all of evolution must occur by “small steps.” It’s that over-reaching which is not mandated by the evidence.

    It is not a question of grasping anything. Your metaphor might appeal to you and others. I’m afraid it only seems a distraction to me.

    Whoa. I’m startin’ to sense some Rabbit hostility here. 🙂

    You claim that you are interested in trying to understand my position, and so when I repeatedly inform you that the central metaphor is, well, central, you respond by dismissing this as a distraction?

    If you would pay attention to the metaphor, it would vastly help with your confusion. The very data that flesh out an image of the Duck also flesh out an image of the Rabbit. You see the Duck. FLE simply notes that , “Hey, the Duck also looks like a Rabbit!” Your confusion about FLE stems from your belief that the Rabbit can only exist if there is no image of the Duck. As if the Duck has to be erased to see the Rabbit.

    Thus far, Alan, every single argument and challenge you have posed is just a variant of “I can’t see the Rabbit! I only see the Duck.” And for those who can see the Rabbit, it’s hardly a powerful argument or challenge.

  83. Whoa. I’m startin’ to sense some Rabbit hostility here.

    I’d just rather you dispense with the metaphor, as its relevance does not improve with repetition, and focus on FLE.

  84. Thus far, Alan, every single argument and challenge you have posed is just a variant of “I can’t see the Rabbit! I only see the Duck.” And for those who can see the Rabbit, it’s hardly a powerful argument or challenge.

    I’m in no position to challenge your idea of FLE as I still have no clear idea what it is. I’m reading your book. We’ll see if there are any clues in that.

  85. I think we can reasonably predict that.

    Large meteors permitting. 😉

  86. But unless you can come up with a powerful argument that it would be impossible for synthetic biologists to influence the subsequent evolution of their designed cells, you have no real argument against FLE.

    I can advance no counter- argument to FLE as I have no clear idea what FLE is. You are welcome to claim that your idea is irrefutable. Be aware that is due to the fact that it is incomprehensible.

  87. You are uncomfortable agreeing with me and cannot acknowledge when I make a valid point.

    Mike your points are eloquent and simply wonderful. Unfortunately they are failing in one respect. You are not successfully communicating what FLE is.

  88. From your mouth: “we can forget anything to do with evolution as it is not relevant.”

    You omitted the question mark. If you re-read you will see that I was asking if FLE kicks in at th Big Bang, it hardly matters about evolution? (Question mark)

  89. Alan,

    Mike your points are eloquent and simply wonderful. Unfortunately they are failing in one respect. You are not successfully communicating what FLE is.

    Communication is a process that depends on both sender and receiver. Either one can be the cause of failure to communicate.

    Back to the point – I’m not asking you to acknowledge FLE is valid or anything like that. Focus. I was simply pointing that given our history might involve bazillions of ways for metazoan-type complexity to emerge, or only a few ways for metazoan-type complexity to emerge, and as you yourself acknowledge, “there is no way of forming any conclusion at all about this,” then we have an ambiguous history. For some reason, you don’t want to admit this.

    I’d just rather you dispense with the metaphor, as its relevance does not improve with repetition, and focus on FLE.

    Your inability to comprehend FLE is probably associated with the manner in which you resist the central metaphor. Do you have something against rabbits?

    Large meteors permitting.

    Large meteor or no large meteor.

  90. Sources of Difficulty by the Speaker

    Voice volume too low to be heard.
    Making the message too complex, either by including too many unnecessary details or too many issues.
    Getting lost, forgetting your point or the purpose of the interaction.
    Body language or nonverbal elements contradicting or interfering with the verbal message, such as smiling when anger or hurt is being expressed.
    Paying too much attention to how the other person is taking the message, or how the person might react.
    Using a very unique code or unconventional method for delivering the message.

    Sources of Difficulty by the Listener

    Being preoccupied and not listening.
    Being so interested in what you have to say that you listen mainly to find an opening to get the floor.
    Formulating and listening to your own rebuttal to what the speaker is saying.
    Listening to your own personal beliefs about what is being said.
    Evaluating and making judgments about the speaker or the message.
    Not asking for clarification when you know that you do not understand.

    http://www.drnadig.com/listening.htm

  91. Do you have something against rabbits?

    Not at all! Lapin à la moutarde is one of my favourites.

  92. Large meteor or no large meteor.

    Large enough to remelt the planet was what I was thinking. Sterilization!

  93. Thanks for the link on communication. I will mull it over. Plus I’ll star reading the book properly, now, having skimmed through. Would you want me to post any queries here or email them? Or not bother you?

  94. Alan,

    Not at all! Lapin à la moutarde is one of my favourites.

    And when I was a kid, Bugs was my favorite toon.

    Large enough to remelt the planet was what I was thinking. Sterilization!

    Okay, sure. If the all life has been wiped out, the genetic code goes with it.

    Thanks for the link on communication. I will mull it over. Plus I’ll star reading the book properly, now, having skimmed through. Would you want me to post any queries here or email them? Or not bother you?

    Sounds good. I just posted a bunny thread – that would be a good place to post any queries.

  95. Pingback: Need Some Air «

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