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TagThe Blind Watchmaker

Curious weasel looks out from behind a rock

Dawkins’ Dubious Double Weasel and the Combinatorial Cataclysm

Dawkins has successfully reduced a combinatorial explosion to a manageable problem...or has he?

In Richard Dawkins’ book, The Blind Watchmaker, he proposed a famous (and infamous) computer program to demonstrate the power of cumulative selection, known as the “Weasel program.” The program demonstrates that by varying a single letter at a time, it is possible to rapidly evolve a coherent English sentence from a string of gibberish. The way the program works is as follows: First, a sequence of characters is randomly assembled by drawing from the 26 English letters and the space. Then, one character is randomly reassigned. The resulting sequence is compared to the phrase from Hamlet, a quote uttered by Polonius: “methinks it is like a weasel.” For every character that matches, a point is scored. If the new sequence…