The Baldwin Effect

Principle
Individuals can change the conditions of competition for their own offspring by the parents solving problems within their lives that their offspring will later face in their lives. Parents can affect the phenotype of their child by passing their learned behavior on. When a species finds a particular behavior compelling, it will begin to select for individuals that possess the genotypes that best enable them to engage in that learned behavior.
Over time, the changes in behavior, which affects the phenotype, will begin to direct the development of the genotype. In this manner, creatures that are capable reinforced learning will not only have greater freedom to affect their phenotype but will see their genotypes change more rapidly than creatures that are not capable of reinforced learning.
Explanation
“Baldwin was an enthusiastic Darwinian, but he was oppressed by the prospect that Darwin’s theory would leave the Mind with an insufficiently important and originating role So he set out to demonstrate that animals, by dint of their own clever activities in the world, might hasten or guide the further evolution of their species. Here is what he asked himself: how could it be that individual animals, by solving problems in their own lifetimes, could change the conditions of competition for their own offspring, making these problems easier to solve in the future?”(77, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea)
“Consider a population of a species in which there is considerable variation at birth in the way their brains are wired up. Just one of the ways, we suppose, endows it possessor with a Good Trick — a behavioral talent that protects it or enhances its chances dramatically…
Those few individuals in the population that are lucky enough to have the Good Trick genotype will typically have difficulty passing it on to their offspring, since under most circumstances their chances of finding a mate who also has a Good Trick genotype are remote and miss as good as a mile.
     But now we introduce just one ‘minor’ change: suppose that although the individual organisms start out with different wirings (whichever wiring was ordered by their particular genotype or genetic recipe)…they have some capacity to adjust or revise their wiring, depending on what they encounter during their lifetimes. (In the language of evolutionary theory, there is some ‘plasticity’ in their phenotypes. The phenotype is the eventual body design created by the genotype in interaction with environment. Identical twins raised in different environments would share a genotype but might be dramatically different in phenotype.) Suppose, then, that these organisms can end up, after exploration, with a design different from the one they were born with. We may suppose their explorations are random, but they have an innate capacity to recognize (and stay with) a Good Trick when stumble upon it. Then those individuals who begin life with a genotype that is closer to the Good Trick genotype — fewer redesign steps away from it — are more likely to come across it, and stick with it, than those that are born with a faraway design.
     This head start in the race to redesign themselves can give them the edge in the Malthusian crunch — if the Good Trick is so good that those who never learn it, or who learn it ’too late,’ are at a severe disadvantage. In populations with this sort of phenotype plasticity, a near-miss is better than a mile….
     In the long run, natural selection — redesign at the genotype level — will tend to follow the lead of and confirm the directions taken by individual organisms’ successful explorations — resign at the individual or phenotype level.
     The way I have just described the Baldwin Effect certainly keeps Mind to a minimum, if not altogether out of the picture; all it requires is some brute, mechanical capacity to stop a random walk when a Good Thing comes along, a minimal capacity to ‘recognize’ a tiny bit of progress, to ‘learn’ something by blind trial and error. In fact, I have put it in behavioristic terms. What Baldwin discovered was that creatures capable of ‘reinforcement learning’ not only do better individually than creatures that are entirely ‘hard-wired’; their species will evolve faster because of its greater capacity to discover design improvements in the neighborhood.” (77-79, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea)
Source
Darwin’s Dangerous Idea by Daniel Dennett

Validated Learning

Principle

Approach to product design that is iterative, depends on short development cycles, and views product / feature creation as a bottom-up response to obstacles that arise when customers use the product rather than a top-down implementation of a long-term plan.

Explanation

” In the Lean Startup model, we are rehabilitating learning with a concept I call validated learning. Validated learning is not after-the-fact rationalization or a good story designed to hide failure. It is a rigorous method for demonstrating progress when one is embedded in the soil of extreme uncertainty in which startups grow. Validated learning is the process of demonstrating empirically that a team has discovered valuable truths about a startup’s present and future business prospects. It is more concrete, more accurate, and faster than market forecasting or classical business planning. It is the principal antidote to the lethal problem of achieving failure: successfully executing a plan that leads nowhere.” (38, Lean Startup)

Source

Lean Startup by Eric Ries

 

Tangled Bank Theory

Term
Theory that offspring are more likely to survive if they are different than their parents. The assumption propping up this theory is that the local habitat a child is born into is often already saturated with genetically similar relatives and it therefore pays to be genetically different.
This theory has been charged with suffering from the ‘fallacy of affirming the consequent’. The counterargument here is that just because children happen to be more diverse does not mean that diversity occurred simply for the sake of setting children apart from their relatives. Diversity for the sake of genetic distinction is not aligned with how life typically behaves: life prefers to mutate as infrequently as possible. Mutation, and evolution, only when obstacles to life’s continuation arise. Indeed, the mathematical odds of a mutation proving beneficial in the offspring of two parents who have survived until that point within their local environment are outweighed by the odds of a mutation proving harmful. It would therefore be impractical for offspring to trend towards diversity merely to distinguish themselves from their parents; the risk far exceeds the reward.
Explanation
Articulation of Theory
“As [Michael Ghiselin] put it, ‘In a saturated economy, it pays to diversify.’ Ghiselin suggested that most creatures compete with their brothers and sisters, so if everybody is a little different from their brothers and sisters, then more can survive. The fact that your parents thrived doing one thing means that it will probably pay to do something else because the local habitat might well be full already with your parents’ friends or relatives doing their things.’
     Graham Bell has called this the ‘tangled bank’ theory, after the famous last paragraph of Charles Darwin Origin of Species: ‘It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us.” (60, The Red Queen)
Fallacy of Affirming the Consequent Counterargument
 
“The trouble is, all these results are also predicted by rival theories just as plausibly. Williams wrote: ‘Fortune will be benevolent indeed if the inference from one theory contradicts that of another. This an especially acute problem in the debate. One scientist gives the analogy of somebody trying to decide what makes his driveway wet: rain, lawn sprinklers, or flooding from the local river. It is no good turning on the sprinkler and observing that it wets the drive or watching rain fall and seeing that it wets the drive. To conclude anything from such observations would be to fall into the trap that philosopher call ‘the fallacy of affirming the consequent.’ Because sprinklers can wet the drive does not prove that they did wet the drive. Because the tangled bank is consistent with the facts, does not prove it is the cause of the fact.” (61, The Red Queen)
The Lack of Drift Counterargument
 
“The tangled bank also conflicted with evidence from fossils. In the 1970s evolutionary biologists realized that species do not change much. They stay exactly the same for thousands of generations, to be suddenly replaced by other forms of life. The tangled bank is a gradualist idea. If the tangled banks were true, then species would gradually drift through the adaptive landscape, changing a little in every generation, instead of remaining true to type for millions of generations. A gradual drifting away of a species from its previous form happens on small islands or in tiny populations precisely because of effects somewhat analogous to Muller’s ratchet: the chance of extinction of some forms and the chance prosperity of other, mutated forms. In larger populations the process that hinders this is sex itself, for an innovations is donated to the rest of the species and quickly lost in the crowd. In island populations sex cannot do this precisely because the population is so inbred.” (62, The Red Queen)
Platonic Bias Counterargument
 
“It was Williams who first pointed out that a huge false assumption lay, and indeed still lies, at the core of most popular treatments of evolution. The old concept of the ladders of progress still lingers on in the form of teleology: Evolution is good for species, and so they strive to make it go faster. Yet is stasis, not change, that is the hallmark of evolution. Sex and gene repair and the sophisticated screening mechanisms of higher animals to ensure that only defect-free eggs and sperm contribute to the next generation – all these are ways of preventing change. The coelacanth, not the human, is the triumph of genetic systems because it has remained faithfully true to type for millions of generations despite endless assaults on the chemical that carry its heredity. The old ‘Vicar of Bray’ model of sex, in which sex is an aid to faster evolution,  implies that organisms would prefer to keep their mutation rate fairly high — since mutation is the source of all variety — and then do a good job of sieving out the bad ones. But, as Williams put it, there is no evidence yet found that any creature ever does anything other than try to keep its mutation rate a low as possible. It strives for a mutation rate of zero. Evolution depends on the fact that it fails.
     Tangled banks work mathematically only if there is a sufficient advantage to being odd. The gamble is that what paid off in one generation will not pay off in the next and that the longer the generation, the more this is so — which implies that conditions keep changing.” (63, The Red Queen)
Source
The Red Queen by Matt Ridley

Life’s Preference for Stasis

Principle
Life prefers stasis. Evolution is not the natural state of life; conditions must be adverse for the continuation of life before it evolves. Without obstacles to its continuation, life will not evolve.
Explanation
“It was Williams who first pointed out that a huge false assumption lay, and indeed still lies, at the core of most popular treatments of evolution. The old concept of the ladders of progress still lingers on in the form of teleology: Evolution is good for species, and so they strive to make it go faster. Yet is stasis, not change, that is the hallmark of evolution. Sex and gene repair and the sophisticated screening mechanisms of higher animals to ensure that only defect-free eggs and sperm contribute to the next generation – all these are ways of preventing change. The coelacanth, not the human, is the triumph of genetic systems because it has remained faithfully true to type for millions of generations despite endless assaults on the chemical that carry its heredity. The old ‘Vicar of Bray’ model of sex, in which sex is an aid to faster evolution,  implies that organisms would prefer to keep their mutation rate fairly high — since mutation is the source of all variety — and then do a good job of sieving out the bad ones. But, as Williams put it, there is no evidence yet found that any creature ever does anything other than try to keep its mutation rate a low as possible. It strives for a mutation rate of zero. Evolution depends on the fact that it fails.
     Tangled banks work mathematically only if there is a sufficient advantage to being odd. The gamble is that what paid off in one generation will not pay off in the next and that the longer the generation, the more this is so — which implies that conditions keep changing.” (63, The Red Queen)
Source
The Red Queen by Matt Ridley

Life-Dinner Principle

Principle
The evolutionary incentive for predators to catch their prey is greater than the incentive for prey to get away from predators. While it is true that the prey’s life is literally on the line in the evolutionary arms race between predators and prey, the predator must catch prey to survive. Prey may survive merely being stronger, and therefore a worse target, than the rest of its kin. A predator, on the other hand, will die if it never catches prey. A world in which the prey’s survival capabilities exceed the predator’s abilities is a world in which the predator doesn’t exist. Consequently, if a predator exists, its capabilities must exceed that of its prey.
Explanation
“Richard Dawkins and John Krebs raised one argument derived from arms races to the level of a ‘principle’: the ‘life-dinner principle.’ A rabbit running from a fox is running for its life, so it has the greater evolutionary incentive to be fast. The fox is merely after its dinner. True enough, but what about a gazelle running from a cheetah? Whereas foxes eat things other than rabbits, cheetahs eat only gazelles. A slow gazelle might never be unlucky enough to meet a cheetah, but a slow cheetah that never catches anything dies. So the downside is greater for the cheetah. As Dawkins and Krebs put it, the specialist will usually win the race” (68, The Red Queen)
Source
 
The Red Queen by Matt Ridley

Principle of Accumulation of Design

Principle
The vast majority of what consider to be a ‘designed x’  is an accumulation of designs that came before that ‘x’. This stands in contrast to the belief that an ‘x’ needs a be produced by a more designed ‘x’. This principle is the foundation of bottom-up design.
Darwinian Explanation
 
“Darwin’s contribution is granting the premise of the Argument from Design… Watches and other designed objects don’t just happen; they have to be the product of what modern industry calls ‘R and D’ — research and development — and R and D is costly, in both time and energy. Before Darwin, the only model we had of a process by which this sort of R-and-D could be done was an Intelligent Artificer. What Darwin saw was that in principle the same work could be done by a different sort of process that distributed work over huge amounts of time, by thriftily conserving the design work that had been accomplished at each stage, so that i didn’t have to be done over again. In other words, Darwin had hit upon what we might call the Principle of Accumulation of Design. Things in the world (such as watches and organisms and who knows what else) may be seen as products embodying a certain amount of Design, and one way or another, Design had to have been created by a process of R and D. Utter undesignedness — pure chaos in the old-fashioned sense — was the null or starting point.” (68, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea)
Psychologist Richard Gregory: “Time’s arrow given by Entropy — the loss of organization, or loss of temperature differences — is statistical and it is subject to local small-scale reversals. Most striking: life is a systematic reversal of Entropy, and intelligence creates structures and energy differences against the supposed gradual ‘death’ through Entropy of the physical Universe” (Gregory 1981, p. 136)
Source
 
Darwin’s Dangerous Idea by Daniel Dennett

Universal Acid

Term
A concept that undermines the legitimacy of belief systems, systems of thought, and previously held hypotheses.
Explanation of Evolution as Universal Acid
“If Nietzsche is the father of existentialism, then perhaps Darwin deserves the title of grandfather” (62, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea)
“Karl Marx was exultant: ‘Not only is a death blow dealt here for the first time to ‘Teleology’ in the natural sciences but their rational meaning is empirically explained’ (62, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea)
“Did you ever hear of universal acid? This fantasy used to amuse me and some of my schoolboy friends — I have no idea whether we invented or inherited, along with Spanish fly and saltpeter, as parts of underground youth culture. Universal acid is a liquid so corrosive that it will eat through anything!…Little did I realize that in a few years, I would encounter an idea — Darwin’s idea — bearing an unmistakable likeness to universal acid: it eats through just about every traditional concept, and leaves in its wake a revolutionized world-view, with most landmarks still recognizable, but  transformed in fundamental ways.
     Darwin’s idea had been born as an answer to questions in biology, but it threatened to leak out, offering answers — welcome or not — to questions of cosmology (going in one direction) and psychology (going in the other direction). If redesign could be a mindless, algorithmic process of evolution, why couldn’t the whole process itself be the product of evolution, and so forth, all the way down? And if mindless evolution could account for the breathtakingly clever artifacts of the biosphere, how could the products of our own ‘real’ minds be exempt from an evolutionary explanation? Darwin’s idea thus also threatened to spread all the way up, dissolving the illusion of our own authorship, our own spark of creativity and understanding.” (63, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea)
Source
Darwin’s Dangerous Idea by Charles Darwin

Platonic Bias

Term
The inclination to give a phenomena a top-down explanation when the phenomena is in reality the result of a bottom-up process.
Explanation
Daniel Dennett discusses how the tradition of Plato’s Forms and Aristotle essences indoctrinated with a top-down manner of thinking: “The development of the science of geology and the discovery of fossils of manifestly extinct species gave the taxonomists further curiosities to confound them, but these curiosities were also the very pieces of the puzzle that enabled Darwin, working alongside hundreds of other scientists, to discover the key to its solution: species were not eternal and immutable; they had evolved over time. Unlike carbon atoms, which, for all one knew, had been around forever in exactly the form they now exhibited, species had births in time, could change over time, and could give birth to new species in turn. This idea itself was not new; many versions of it had been seriously discussed, going back to the ancient Greeks. But there was was a powerful Platonic bias against it: essences were unchanging and a thing couldn’t change its essence, and new essences couldn’t be born — except of course by God’s command in episodes of Special Creation….
The essentialist urge is still with us and not always for bad reasons. Science does aspire to carve nature at its joints, and it often does seem like we need essences, or something like essences, to do the job. On those point the two great kingdoms of philosophical thought, the Platonic and the Aristotelian, agree.  But the Darwinian mutation, which at first seemed to be a new way of thinking about kinds of biology, can spread to other phenomena and other disciplines (38-39, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea)
Source
Darwin’s Dangerous Idea by Daniel Dennett

Lamarckism

Term
The false belief that one’s actions can change the genes that one passes on to his or her children. No matter how an individual transforms himself or herself throughout life, his or her transformations will not affect the DNA that one’s children inherit.
Explanation
“It is a mistake that biologists used to make, too. They believed that evolution proceeded by accumulating the changes that individuals gathered during their lives. The idea was most clearly formulated by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, but Charles Darwin sometimes used it, too. The classic example is a blacksmith’s son supposedly inheriting his father’s acquired muscles at birth. We now know that Lamarckism cannot work because bodies are built from cakelike recipes, not architectural blueprints, and it is simply impossibly to feed information back into the recipe by change the cake. But the first coherent challenge to Lamarckism was the work of a German follower of Darwin named August Weismann, who began to publish his ideas in the 1880s. Weismann noticed something peculiar about the most sexual creatures: Their sex cell — eggs and sperm — remained segregated from the rest of the body from the moment of their birth. He wrote: ‘I believe that heredity depends upon the fact that a small portion of the effective substance of the germ, the germ-plasm, remains unchanged during the development of the ovum into an organism, and that this part of the germ-plasm serves as the foundation from which germ cells of the new organism are produced. There is, therefore, continuity of the germ-plasm from one generation to another.
     In other words, you are not descended from your mother but from her ovary. Nothing can happen to her body or her mind in her life that could affect your nature” (8, Red Queen)
Source
The Red Queen by Matt Ridley

Sexual Selection

Term
An aspect of natural selection that explains the role of sex in driving the selection process. It asserts that organisms who are most likely to pass on their genes are those who prioritize their own reproductive success over other motives. Consequently, the surviving organisms are those who’ve engaged in behavior that has ensured successful reproduction.
Explanation
“One of Charles Darwin’s more obscure ideas that animals’ mates can act like horse breeders, consistently selecting certain types and so changing the race. This theory, known as sexual selection, was ignored for many years after Darwin’s death and has only recently come back into vogue. Its principal insight is that the goal of an animal is not just to survive but to breed. Indeed, where breeding and survival come into conflict, it is breeding that takes precedence; for example, salmon starve to death while breeding. And breeding in sexual species, consists of finding an appropriate partner and persuading it to part with a package of genes. This goal is so central to life that it has influence design not only of the body but of the psyche. Simply put, anything that increases reproductive success will spread at the expense of anything that does not — even if it threaten survival” (20, The Red Queen)
Source
The Red Queen by Matt Ridley