Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis


weasel peering out of a burrow

Dawkins’ Weasel Program vs the Information Life Acquires En Route

To demonstrate what is wrong with fully naturalist assumptions like those of Richard Dawkins’ Weasel program, I developed Weasel Libs, modeled on Mad Libs

In his famous Weasel program zoologist and philosopher Richard Dawkins shows that the simple combination of random mutation and natural selection (Darwinian evolution) can produce the English sentence, “Methinks it is like a weasel”, in a short time period. The point of his program is to demonstrate that evolution can generate the complex, pre-specified DNA sequences we find in biology before the heat death of the universe. His argument sounds persuasive because both English sentences and DNA sequences are made up of symbols. Both can be randomly modified anywhere, and by cumulative selection, they can plausibly adapt to the environment in reasonably short order. Writers in English can learn to pen best-selling novels through trial and error and audience feedback.…

Monarch Butterfly Congregation 2

Can Animal Behavior Simply Be Transferred Into the Genome?

For example, how do Monarch butterflies from Canada get to the same trees in Mexico as their great-grandparents landed in?

Recently, geologist Casey Luskin interviewed Eric Cassell, author of Animal Algorithms: Evolution and the Mysterious Origin of Ingenious Instincts (2021) on one of the central mysteries of biology: How do animals “know” things that they can’t have figured out on their own? Here’s the first part, with transcript and notes. Below is the second part, which looks at some “how” questions. Eric Cassell is an expert in navigation systems, including GPS whose experience includes more than four decades of experience in systems engineering related to aircraft, navigation and safety. He has long had an interest in animal navigation. His model for animal navigation is the natural algorithm: The animal’s brain is “programmed” to enable navigation. Here’s Part II of our…

close up photo of green leafed plant

If You Do Something to a Plant, Will It Remember?

Depends. Plants turn out to be more and more like animals. NOT like people but like animals

Plants, we are learning, have internal means of remembering and keeping track of things: In a study published in Nature Communications, researchers from Nara Institute of Science and Technology have revealed that a family of proteins that control small heat shock genes enables plants to ‘remember’ how to deal with heat stress… “Heat stress is often repeating and changing,” says lead author of the study Nobutoshi Yamaguchi. “Once plants have undergone mild heat stress, they become tolerant and can adapt to further heat stress. This is referred to as heat stress ‘memory’ and has been reported to be correlated to epigenetic modifications.” Epigenetic modifications are inheritable changes in the way genes are expressed, and do not involve changes in the…

Aphrodisiac pill for libido and sexual drive

Can a Hormone Explain Why Humans Love Each Other?

Some researchers think they have zeroed in on an explanation, oxytocin

Some researchers have been trying to understand why mothers love their children: When it comes to biological mechanisms of empathy, scientists are particularly interested in oxytocin, the so-called “love hormone.” High oxytocin levels predict sensitive parenting, but it isn’t clear how the oxytocin-related gene might generate variation in empathy and parental behavior. One possible explanation is epigenetic changes to the gene — a way of altering gene function without changing the actual DNA sequence. Specifically, “DNA methylation” — the addition of a chemical group called the “methyl” group at specific locations — in the oxytocin gene (called OXT) has been associated with personality traits and brain structure in humans. This raises a question: can methylation of OXT influence empathy in…