More bats

How prophetic.

So, in honor of this story (which I don’t think is over – we have little idea of where these things are originating)…

Another attack last night. I hear them in the ceiling.

Oh, Jesus

There’s a story floating around the interwebbings that says “Study shows evolution guided by ‘invisible hand'” or some variation of that. Most of the actual articles take this idea too far.

A study in the University’s School of Psychology sought to explain how turn-taking has evolved across a range of species. The conclusion is that there is an “invisible hand” that guides our actions in this respect.

That isn’t really the conclusion. The researchers did use the phrase “invisible hand”, but they didn’t come to a scientific understanding that, “OO! Magic!” is what’s going on here. Here’s some actual meat.

The researchers state: “Turn-taking is initiated only after a species has evolved at least two genetically different types that behave differently in initial, uncoordinated interactions with others. Then as soon as a pair coordinates by chance, they instinctively begin to play ‘tit for tat’. This locks them into mutually beneficial coordinated turn-taking indefinitely. Without genetic diversity, turn-taking cannot evolve in this simple way.”

Tit-for-tat is a model of behavior that results in a form of altruism. It’s pretty much what it sounds like: you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. A lot of organisms have it, and it’s especially strong among kin or even likely kin. The basis is that closely related organisms tend to have highly similar genes. While helping out (in one form or another) one’s brother may seem detrimental, it actually isn’t. That brother has 50% of the genes, on average, that the helper has. He’s really helping a lot of his own genes. On top of that, the brother is likely to help back at some point in the future (afterall, genes for altruism, if in one brother, are likely to be in the other brother).

What happened in the aforementioned study is that tit-for-tat is already assumed in the model. That is, it has already evolved within groups. What needs to be explained is specific turn-taking. And that’s exactly what the researchers did. They showed that it takes a random throw of the dice to find the right gene combination, so to speak. Once that point is reached, the non-randomness of natural selection can subject those genes to adaptations.

Professor Colman added: “In our simulations, the individuals were computer programs that were not only dumb and robotic but also purely selfish. Nevertheless, they ended up taking turns in perfect coordination. We published indirect evidence for this in 2004; we have now shown it directly and found a simple explanation for it. Our findings confirm that cooperation does not always require benevolence or deliberate planning. This form of cooperation, at least, is guided by an ‘invisible hand’, as happens so often in Darwin’s theory of natural selection.”

Let’s be fair to Professor Colman. There’s no way of telling from this if he too is trying to sneak a vague concept of a god into all this. I doubt he is. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter because he’s a scientist and his languages suggests religious connotations. That is why the media especially latched onto this story. It isn’t like turn-taking grabs the attention of the average layman.

Dawkins

What has theology ever said that is of the smallest use to anybody? When has theology ever said anything that is demonstrably true and is not obvious? I have listened to theologians, read them, debated against them. I have never heard any of them ever say anything of the smallest use, anything that was not either platitudinously obvious or downright false. If all the achievements of scientists were wiped out tomorrow, there would be no doctors but witch doctors, no transport faster than horses, no computers, no printed books, no agriculture beyond subsistence peasant farming. If all the achievements of theologians were wiped out tomorrow, would anyone notice the smallest difference? Even the bad achievements of scientists, the bombs, and sonar-guided whaling vessels work! The achievements of theologians don’t do anything, don’t affect anything, don’t mean anything. What makes anyone think that “theology” is a subject at all?