Friday, June 29, 2007


Just a chance remark tonight set me off on this mad quest. Someone called another fellow by my name. That provoked gales of mirthful and ironic witticisms about how similar we two were, the most salient revolving around my freakish height. Haw haw. My droll contribution was something like, Yes, we have an almost identical genome. That invited an observation about the genetic similarities between humans and chimps, which as I recalled are somewhere between 96 and 98 percent agreement. Well, being me, I've had to look it up now.

One source says "nearly 99%", another says 98.5, another 96% -- you see the gist of it. There are a lot of genetic commonalities between us and them. The differences work out to 1% due to single-pair substitutions in the codes, and an additional 1.5% each unique to humans and to chimps, summing up to a 4% difference.

Don't you wish you'd payed attention in school?

The internet is such a fantastic tool. The kids don't have a clue. Remember card catalogs? It's a dang Golden Age of Information.

Still being me, I had to actually read the articles. I haven't followed the Human Genome Project. You'd think it would be an object of sheer fascination to me. Indeed, it is -- but I have been busy with other things for the past few years. And, frankly, these biologists or whatever their discipline is evince a severe lack of imagination when they give genes names. Just a bunch of letters and numbers, unpronounceable and not evocative in the least. It offends my poetic soul. It's just bad marketing. Now quarks, and charms and colors -- the physicists have style.

Interesting, how vast regions of human DNA, some 97%, have a function -- "if any" -- that is unknown. It appears that less than 1.5% of our genome involve protein-coding sequences (there are an astoundingly-low 20- to 25-thousand such genes). Terra incognita, then, for all that it is named. Map outlines of islands and continents as yet unexplored. It is reasonable that in such wild lands, monkeys might guide us.

By comparing chimp and human genomes, we learn "the results confirmed the common evolutionary origin of humans and chimpanzees." The math of it is, two billion nine hundred sixty-five million base pairs are shared, while thirty-five million are different; then there are some five million insertions or deletions. Does that clear it up? Somewhere within these 40 million (apples and oranges) differences, one million of them account for monkiness or humanness. Say, cousins. Robert H. Waterston, former director of the Genome Sequencing Center, affirmed, "I couldn't imagine Darwin hoping for a stronger confirmation of his ideas than when we see the comparison of the human and chimpanzee genome." Thus is the common ancestry proven, as Darwin predicted in 1871; we are separated from our simian co-primates by a mere 6 million years.

Chimp comparisons have revealed "six regions of our DNA that appear to have evolved dramatically over the past 250,000 years ... [and a 7th] that showed notable change contains the FOXP2 gene, which already has been linked to speech in humans." While "most of the genetic changes occurring during the evolution of chimps and humans had neither a positive nor a negative effect .... genes active in the brain showed much more accumulated change in humans ... suggesting that those genes played a special role in human evolution."

The HGP provides such a highly accurate picture that we may surely perform sensitive analyses of, per the NIH, "the 'birth' and 'death' of genes over the course of evolution." And from it we learn of segmental duplications -- lengthy, nearly identical copies of DNA located in several places in the genome and comprising some 5.3% of the total. Says Waterston, now "this important and rapidly evolving part of our genome is open for scientific exploration." Useful.

The NIH release states that the high proportion of duplication "shows our genetic material has undergone rapid functional innovation and structural change during the last 40 million years, presumably contributing to unique characteristics that separate us from our non-human primate ancestors." Isn't that interesting? Some analogue of polyploidy, perhaps? "Some segmental duplications tend to be clustered near the middle (centromeres) and ends (telomeres) of each chromosome, where, researchers postulate, they may be used by the genome as an evolutionary laboratory for creating genes with new functions." See? It tells us about both the immemorial past, and the vanishing-point future. It's practically a Bible!


Well? Do you see it? The bias? There's what we know, what we observe and measures and test. Then there are the presumptions we bring to the table. Is it a paradigm, a systematic worldview, an overall matrix of interpretation? Well, yes, it is. But a paradigm is a bias. Biases are fine. If they're consonant with reality. But Aztec child-sacrifice derived from a paradigm. Burning witches at the stake derived from a paradigm. Slavery, and exterminations camps, and abortion. These are extreme examples. Well, abortion might not be extreme. Maybe it's just a right, like free health care. And slavery might have been okay, as so many of my race have contended -- my race, which might very well be superior. And them Jews maybe deserved killing, and them witches, and them Aztec children. But for the sake of moving the discussion along, we might hope that most erroneous worldviews do not lead to toxic results. Where would we be, without hope.

I am not an Evolutionist. I adhere to another sect, backward and intolerant as I am. A real raskolnikov. Where does that leave me, in my pretense of intellectualism? I'm a fraud, of course. You hear how authoritative the genome findings are, and the statements about the findings. Who am I, to presume to know differently?

I am your humble servant, Jack H, and far be it from me, so lowly, so unworthy of favor or notice, to presume to gainsay the lofty intellects who have pronounced so resoundingly on these matters. And yet, yet I must dare! I must!

None of the presumed Evolutionary changes have been observed. Let us acknowledge the distinction between change and difference. The latter is an observation; the former is an interpretation. Mutations have been observed, most certainly, but these have never been observed to be meaningfully beneficial, and so cannot fall into that capitalized category of Evolutionary change. We all know that damage can occur. Does damage result in improvement? Whether or not information can be randomly generated, is problematic. Some might suggest that such an assertion would violate the generalized second law of thermodynamics as it applies to information theory. Such people, however, could not be Evolutionists, and therefore must be wrong.

Clearly, entropy applies only to non-living systems. Oh, and not to the Big Bang. Well, not to any start-up condition. Improbabilities mount up, one upon the other, until complexity reaches its critical mass and inchoate chaos becomes inevitable cosmos. Anyway, the existence of life proves the fact of Evolution. Quod erat demonstrandum.

I, however, am a fool, a half-informed doofus who barely understands most of what I write. You will wish to correct me, seeking to alleviate the powerful delusion under which my primitive and superstitious mind is labouring. You might adduce peppered moths or Darwin's finches, or some example of Drosophila melanogaster, or the australopithicines. Since I have never heard of these things, you will most assuredly win the argument -- for the time being.

Then, being me, a stubborn and willful hack, I'd go on the internet and marshal something like facts, all of them taken out of context and mostly misquoted, which I would then, in a monotonous and piercing voice, claim support my case. You would know that I'm simply wrong, but if you condescend to correct me, I wouldn't understand your point, and it would be very frustrating for you.

God, what an unpleasant conversation. I'm such an ass. How did we get started on this, with all the name-calling and spitting and feces-flinging? Something about calling me a chimp, as I recall. Well, all things considered, I suppose it's best that we just accept our own biases and not try to change anyone else's mind. Seems like the safest bet. Just do nothing. After all, Evolution proves that given enough time things just get better and better on their own, randomly. The fittest survive. What could be more just than that?



Si's blog said...

An interesting blog entry. I ran across it when I Googled FOXP2 'cause I had referred to that in my last blog entry. The theory of evolution is, of course, a work in progress. Who wants a complete and perfect theory? That takes all of the fun out of it. But the alternative is fine for self-serving preachers but not for the science class. See my entries for 7/1/07,2/24/07,2/18/07...... Am I an evolutionist? Defintitely yes. As Churchill said about democracies, horrible but everything else has already been tried.

Jack H said...

Your tone is generally far more measured than mine. I just can't help but get a little sarcastic, now and again. This is my therapy. In real life I am stiff and unnatural. You do slip up when you talk about preachers. There is another alternative, that is based on empirical rather than testimonial evidence -- insofar as conclusions derived from inference can be empirical. If we ignore preachers and their writs, and take as our text the established laws of science, Evolution comes up against the embarassment of the genealized second law of thermodynamics, as I pointed out. Ad hoc pleadings weaken a theory. Your lighter point, about us not really wanting perfect theories, is taken in the spirit it is offered. But when a theory does become complete and perfect, we call it a law. You see the problem. You're throwing out the Laws of Science, by pleading for the Theory of Evolution. That's what some would say non-Evolutionists do. Double standard, eh?


Si's blog said...

Laws are different. F = Q m1 m2 / d^2 is the law of gravity. You plug the stupid numbers into the stupid equation and it ALWAYS works - well, not quite. See Scientific American. Laws and theories are similar in that they are tools. Laws give the right answer. Theories explain why.

Si's blog said...

Entropy and Murphy's Law apply to so many things. If anything, it controls every aspect of our lives, including cellular evolution. As such, it of course applies. Which ever way you argue. I would bet that you did not know that Murphy's Law was not discovered by him but by another man of the same name.

Si's blog said...

I should not be so caustic about preachers. I lived in Lynchburg for a large number of years. Jerry gave the folks what they paid for. It is like the news. Do the news networks tell us the truth? Hell, no. They tell us what will increase their readership and thierefore their income. Preachers do the same. They provide a service, a value for the money.

Jack H said...

1. No. Theories *try* to explain why. To explain why would be to be correct. Theories do not possess that level of certainty. When they achieve it, they graduate to laws -- like, say, the law of gravity, or, uh, the second law of thermodynamics, S = -k·sigma[Pilog(Pi)]

2. Entropy controls Evolution? Sort of the way cowards control heroism? By being the opposite. As you will know, a definition that allows everything defines nothing.

As for Murphy, he changed his name after he invented sliced bread. To a sort of symbol: blue and red polka dots on a white background. Later, the dots evolved into white squares. Therein lies the answer to every question, if only we could ask every question.

3. Jerry is like God. And don't say hell.