The March Philosophy Book of the Month is Final Notice by Van Fleisher. Discuss Final Notice now.

The April Philosophy Book of the Month is The Unbound Soul by Richard L. Haight. Discuss The Unbound Soul Now

The May Philosophy Book of the Month is Misreading Judas by Robert Wahler.

Any practical use for Darwin's tree of life?

Use this forum to discuss the philosophy of science. Philosophy of science deals with the assumptions, foundations, and implications of science.
Romanz1
Posts: 41
Joined: September 12th, 2018, 10:15 pm

Any practical use for Darwin's tree of life?

Post by Romanz1 » November 18th, 2018, 9:05 am

It seems to me that there are no practical uses in applied science for the information that all life on earth evolved from a microbe that existed billions of years ago (ie, Darwin's tree). All I can find is lots of hype.

Steve3007
Posts: 5828
Joined: June 15th, 2011, 5:53 pm
Favorite Philosopher: Eratosthenes
Location: UK

Re: Any practical use for Darwin's tree of life?

Post by Steve3007 » November 18th, 2018, 11:33 am

In this context, how do you define the terms "practical use" and "hype"?

User avatar
JamesOfSeattle
Posts: 509
Joined: October 16th, 2015, 11:20 pm

Re: Any practical use for Darwin's tree of life?

Post by JamesOfSeattle » November 18th, 2018, 2:57 pm

In general it seems that understanding how things work is useful, even if understanding how any particular thing works might never get used. You never know what knowledge might be useful. As for practical use of knowing how life evolved on earth, I can see at least

1. Understanding how to make use of evolution-type techniques, such as genetic algorithms

2. Understanding under what circumstances life naturally evolves, and thus being able to decide whether to expect life in the universe, and especially technical life, to be common or rare. If we expect intelligent life to be common, that would change how we approach preparing for space travel, as opposed to expecting other intelligent life to be rare or non-existent.

*

Romanz1
Posts: 41
Joined: September 12th, 2018, 10:15 pm

Re: Any practical use for Darwin's tree of life?

Post by Romanz1 » November 19th, 2018, 12:11 am

Steve3007 wrote:
November 18th, 2018, 11:33 am
In this context, how do you define the terms "practical use" and "hype"?
Medical science, for example, offers many practical uses of applied science - drugs, vaccines, cures, treatments, procedures - but I don't know of any that depend on the information that all life on earth evolved from a microbe over billions of years. In the areas of plant and animal breeding - ditto.

The Darwinian interpretation of the history of life on earth gets a lot of publicity, but it seems that no example of applied science depends on it. The title of Dobzhansky's essay, "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution", has become something of a mantra in biology, but it appears to be hype, as applied biology seems to have no use at all for the evolutionary history of life on earth.

Romanz1
Posts: 41
Joined: September 12th, 2018, 10:15 pm

Re: Any practical use for Darwin's tree of life?

Post by Romanz1 » November 19th, 2018, 12:17 am

JamesOfSeattle wrote:
November 18th, 2018, 2:57 pm
In general it seems that understanding how things work is useful, even if understanding how any particular thing works might never get used. You never know what knowledge might be useful. As for practical use of knowing how life evolved on earth, I can see at least

1. Understanding how to make use of evolution-type techniques, such as genetic algorithms

2. Understanding under what circumstances life naturally evolves, and thus being able to decide whether to expect life in the universe, and especially technical life, to be common or rare. If we expect intelligent life to be common, that would change how we approach preparing for space travel, as opposed to expecting other intelligent life to be rare or non-existent.
RE 1: I doubt if anything in mathematics depends on the biological history of life on earth.

Re 2: So far millions/billions of dollars have bee spent on looking for ETs, but without success - not exactly a practical use - more like a giganitc waste of money and resources.

Steve3007
Posts: 5828
Joined: June 15th, 2011, 5:53 pm
Favorite Philosopher: Eratosthenes
Location: UK

Re: Any practical use for Darwin's tree of life?

Post by Steve3007 » November 19th, 2018, 3:15 am

Romanz1 wrote:Medical science, for example, offers many practical uses of applied science - drugs, vaccines, cures, treatments, procedures - but I don't know of any that depend on the information that all life on earth evolved from a microbe over billions of years. In the areas of plant and animal breeding - ditto.
Evolution is the basis of Biology and an understanding of Biology is useful in medicine. The idea that life has become more diverse and complex since it first arose and that it started with simpler, smaller organisms is an extrapolation from current evidence, with the application of that theory. Are you saying that this extrapolation should not be made? Or are you simply saying that it's not useful?

Would you apply this to other areas of science too? Take, for example, the laws describing the gravitational attraction between objects. Very useful for various practical purposes. They can also be used to extrapolate back in time and make calculations about such things as the formation of our solar system, or about the interactions of galaxies. Arguably not as useful. So what? Should we pretend that the solar system didn't form? Should we ban the discussion of such things?

I'm struggling to see your point.
RE 1: I doubt if anything in mathematics depends on the biological history of life on earth.
I've personally worked, for a research company, on the development of computer software which uses mathematics derived from Evolutionary Biology to speed up the process of new drug discovery (ADMET) in medical research. As JamesOfSeatle points out, you can't necessarily tell in advance what utility a given area of research might have.

Romanz1
Posts: 41
Joined: September 12th, 2018, 10:15 pm

Re: Any practical use for Darwin's tree of life?

Post by Romanz1 » November 19th, 2018, 7:10 am

Steve3007 wrote:
November 19th, 2018, 3:15 am
Are you saying that this extrapolation should not be made? Or are you simply saying that it's not useful?
The extrapolation can be made, but it's appears to have no practical use. Makes one wonder why it considered so important. It's no more than an historical curiosity.
I've personally worked, for a research company, on the development of computer software which uses mathematics derived from Evolutionary Biology to speed up the process of new drug discovery (ADMET) in medical research. As JamesOfSeatle points out, you can't necessarily tell in advance what utility a given area of research might have.
Which aspect of "Evolutionary Biology" is this mathematics derived from?

Steve3007
Posts: 5828
Joined: June 15th, 2011, 5:53 pm
Favorite Philosopher: Eratosthenes
Location: UK

Re: Any practical use for Darwin's tree of life?

Post by Steve3007 » November 19th, 2018, 10:40 am

Romanz1 wrote:The extrapolation can be made, but it's appears to have no practical use. Makes one wonder why it considered so important. It's no more than an historical curiosity.
I haven't personally noticed anyone considering it to be important for anything inappropriate. It generally seems to come up in philosophical discussions about the origins of life on Earth - an appropriate setting. I doubt whether it comes up much in meetings between doctors discussing the best treatment for their patients. So why does it bother you?
Which aspect of "Evolutionary Biology" is this mathematics derived from?
Algorithms that find solutions to problems using methods that borrow from the principles of Evolution.

Romanz1
Posts: 41
Joined: September 12th, 2018, 10:15 pm

Re: Any practical use for Darwin's tree of life?

Post by Romanz1 » November 20th, 2018, 1:01 am

Steve3007 wrote:
November 19th, 2018, 10:40 am
Algorithms that find solutions to problems using methods that borrow from the principles of Evolution.
Which "principles of Evolution" exactly do these algorithms borrow from?

Steve3007
Posts: 5828
Joined: June 15th, 2011, 5:53 pm
Favorite Philosopher: Eratosthenes
Location: UK

Re: Any practical use for Darwin's tree of life?

Post by Steve3007 » November 20th, 2018, 3:49 am

Romanz1 wrote:Which "principles of Evolution" exactly do these algorithms borrow from?
Look up "genetic algorithms". There are various types. In the pharmaceuticals company for which I was working we developed a computer modelling technique which used evolutionary algorithms to "evolve" equations which related the various chemical characteristics of proposed drug molecules with experimental results showing how those molecules interact with the body, such as how they diffuse through the blood-brain barrier. The technique creates proposed mathematical relationships between the two, tested them for "fitness" - i.e. how well they fit the experimental results, and did something analogous to "breeding" with the more successful ones. i.e. it took parts of these mathematical solutions and combined them with parts of other solutions in a technique that is analogous to sexual reproduction, in which parts of DNA are combined.

The idea was to speed up the process of developing new drugs for treating various medical conditions, because traditional processes can take many years, cost millions of dollars and use lots of animal testing.

In general, genetic algorithms can be useful for problems in which we have potential solutions, and a desired goal but a very complex "search space" in between that is not amenable to rigorous analytical methods.

Is it a subject that interests you?

---

Romanz1, from looking at your previous posts, it's clear that you're sceptical about the whole Theory of Evolution. So why are you taking this line that, though factually true, it has no practical use? Why not just say that you don't believe it to be factually true?

Romanz1
Posts: 41
Joined: September 12th, 2018, 10:15 pm

Re: Any practical use for Darwin's tree of life?

Post by Romanz1 » November 20th, 2018, 8:26 am

Steve3007 wrote:
November 20th, 2018, 3:49 am
Look up "genetic algorithms". There are various types. In the pharmaceuticals company for which I was working we developed a computer modelling technique which used evolutionary algorithms to "evolve" equations which related the various chemical characteristics of proposed drug molecules with experimental results showing how those molecules interact with the body, such as how they diffuse through the blood-brain barrier. The technique creates proposed mathematical relationships between the two, tested them for "fitness" - i.e. how well they fit the experimental results, and did something analogous to "breeding" with the more successful ones. i.e. it took parts of these mathematical solutions and combined them with parts of other solutions in a technique that is analogous to sexual reproduction, in which parts of DNA are combined.
Okay, but "breeding" and "fitness" are concepts that are independant of the Darwinian interpretation of the history of life, that is to say, the latter depends on the former, but the former doesn't depend on the latter. So this particular use of algorithims would seem irrelevant to the OP.

Steve3007
Posts: 5828
Joined: June 15th, 2011, 5:53 pm
Favorite Philosopher: Eratosthenes
Location: UK

Re: Any practical use for Darwin's tree of life?

Post by Steve3007 » November 20th, 2018, 11:04 am

Okay, but "breeding" and "fitness" are concepts that are independant of the Darwinian interpretation of the history of life, that is to say, the latter depends on the former, but the former doesn't depend on the latter. So this particular use of algorithims would seem irrelevant to the OP.
OK. Fair comment.

Eduk
Posts: 2466
Joined: December 8th, 2016, 7:08 am
Favorite Philosopher: Socrates

Re: Any practical use for Darwin's tree of life?

Post by Eduk » November 20th, 2018, 1:48 pm

It's already been said but biology has proven very practical what with the vastly increased life spans and all.
This year's Nobel prize in biology has always impressed me for example.
Unknown means unknown.

Fooloso4
Moderator
Posts: 3601
Joined: February 28th, 2014, 4:50 pm

Re: Any practical use for Darwin's tree of life?

Post by Fooloso4 » November 20th, 2018, 2:23 pm

The pursuit of knowledge is considered by many to be an end in itself. To what ends knowledge will be used cannot be foreseen.

The theory of evolution has been very influential. It challenges the top down model of order and development of life, and by extension, the order and development of the universe. It challenges the notion of distinct, unchanging kinds. As we move further and further back to simpler organisms the question of what distinguished life from non-life is posed in ways that are not amenable to outdated answers.

As with Kant’s Copernican Revolution it has shifted our fundamental orientation and relationship to the world. The question of how this may relate to practical uses in applied sciences does not pose the question deep enough. Applied science is dependent on basic science.

The question of the use of knowledge is a old as the pursuit of knowledge.

Eduk
Posts: 2466
Joined: December 8th, 2016, 7:08 am
Favorite Philosopher: Socrates

Re: Any practical use for Darwin's tree of life?

Post by Eduk » November 20th, 2018, 3:22 pm

The question of how this may relate to practical uses in applied sciences does not pose the question deep enough. Applied science is dependent on basic science.
It is also of massive practical use in applied science. Imagine for example you are a biologist free to pursue whatever interests you in the field of biology. How would you proceed? How would you decide what to study and why, what experiments to prove and what application can be made. All of this whating and whying is heavily dependent on the theory of evolution.
Unknown means unknown.

Post Reply