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Thread: What does "random" really mean in terms of genetic

  1. #1 What does "random" really mean in terms of genetic 
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    I hear a lot of people talk about the mutations that help drive evolution being "random". What does that mean? That there is no logical explanation for why the mutation occurred? Or does it simply mean that the various causes that led to a particular mutation are so many and so obscure, that we cannot say for sure what gave rise to it?


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    The main source of mutations is DNA duplication, which is a normal event every time a cell divides.

    Errors are always made during the copying. A whole machinery is actually designed to minimize the errors, and they actually perform proofreading.

    Some viruses have such poor proofreading that they actually undergo mutation rates that are very close to being detrimental. If you have too many mutations, too many things can go wrong.


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  4. #3 Re: What does "random" really mean in terms of gen 
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    Quote Originally Posted by delsydebothom
    I hear a lot of people talk about the mutations that help drive evolution being "random". What does that mean? That there is no logical explanation for why the mutation occurred? Or does it simply mean that the various causes that led to a particular mutation are so many and so obscure, that we cannot say for sure what gave rise to it?
    Basically, whenever DNA is copied, errors creep in. These errors are mutations. It happens in all our bodies throughout our lives and we have pretty effective mechanisms to deal with them. Where mutation relates to evolution, is during the production of gametes, i.e. the male and female reproductive cells. Errors can occur when these are produced as well and the errors are totally random. These errors can have a range of effects on the resultant organism ranging from bad to neutral to good. What decides what is good or bad is the specifics of the mutation and how it affects the organism's survival in it's environment. If the mutation severely hampers the organism's ability to breed successfully, the mutation was bad. If the mutation provides a bit of an advantage to the organism in this area, the mutation would be good. A large percentage of mutations are neutral though AFAIK and often the combination of a neutral mutation that continues down the line and a new mutation can have a compounding effect on each other. Anyway, the point is that mutations are random, but evolution is directed by how the environment decides on the status of a mutation.
    Disclaimer: I do not declare myself to be an expert on ANY subject. If I state something as fact that is obviously wrong, please don't hesitate to correct me. I welcome such corrections in an attempt to be as truthful and accurate as possible.

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    Quote Originally Posted by spuriousmonkey
    The main source of mutations is DNA duplication, which is a normal event every time a cell divides.

    Errors are always made during the copying. A whole machinery is actually designed to minimize the errors, and they actually perform proofreading.

    Some viruses have such poor proofreading that they actually undergo mutation rates that are very close to being detrimental. If you have too many mutations, too many things can go wrong.
    Proofreading? That sound intriguing.

    But as for this word "random"--it cannot mean "causeless", can it? I ask because some friends I've discussed this with seem to use the word "random" to describe an event without any rationale--viz., as though there was nothing that made it happen.
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    Quote Originally Posted by delsydebothom
    Quote Originally Posted by spuriousmonkey
    The main source of mutations is DNA duplication, which is a normal event every time a cell divides.

    Errors are always made during the copying. A whole machinery is actually designed to minimize the errors, and they actually perform proofreading.

    Some viruses have such poor proofreading that they actually undergo mutation rates that are very close to being detrimental. If you have too many mutations, too many things can go wrong.
    Proofreading? That sound intriguing.

    But as for this word "random"--it cannot mean "causeless", can it? I ask because some friends I've discussed this with seem to use the word "random" to describe an event without any rationale--viz., as though there was nothing that made it happen.
    "Random" does not imply "causeless", at least not in mathematics or science. It just means non-predictable due to limitations in our ability to model a system. We have to model mutation in probabilistic terms.
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    WYSIWYG Moderator marnixR's Avatar
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    small correction : it is still possible that whilst individual events are random, the sum of many events is still predictable in a probabilistic sense
    e.g. think radio-active decay
    "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away." (Philip K. Dick)
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    Quote Originally Posted by marnixR
    small correction : it is still possible that whilst individual events are random, the sum of many events is still predictable in a probabilistic sense
    e.g. think radio-active decay
    Well yes, what I meant is that we can only make probabilistic predictions. Perhaps what I should have said is that mutations (and other random phenomena) are not deterministically predictable? Is that right the right term?

    The main point being that "cause" is still very much in there.
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    Quote Originally Posted by marnixR
    small correction : it is still possible that whilst individual events are random, the sum of many events is still predictable in a probabilistic sense
    e.g. think radio-active decay
    Radioactive decay happens for no reason?
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    No. You are working from a flawed definition of the word "random." Once you get past that, these other uncertainties will mostly evaporate.
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    Quote Originally Posted by delsydebothom

    Radioactive decay happens for no reason?
    Yes, I think that's true in a sense. We cannot distinguish an atom that is going to undergo radioactive decay in 5 minutes, from an apparently identical atom that will not decay for another million years.
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    To elaborate:

    Random events do have causes but they are events for which there are more than one possible outcome. Before you reach your hand into a sack of mixed marbles to chose one at random, the color that will be chosen has more than one possible outcome.

    Random causes (probability >0 and <1) are to be contrasted with deterministic causes which have exactly one outcome (probability = 1 or 0) and guided contingent processes which are goal driven but can have "uncertain" outcomes since the intended design can fail.
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    Veracity Vigilante inow's Avatar
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    This doesn't look like "no reason" to me:

    http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu...es/allfor.html
    http://www2.slac.stanford.edu/vvc/theory/decays.html
    http://www.particleadventure.org/decay_intro.html
    http://curious.astro.cornell.edu/que...php?number=193


    We may not be able to state clearly which particle will decay at which rate, but that is it happening for "no reason."
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    Quote Originally Posted by inow
    This doesn't look like "no reason" to me:

    http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu...es/allfor.html
    http://www2.slac.stanford.edu/vvc/theory/decays.html
    http://www.particleadventure.org/decay_intro.html
    http://curious.astro.cornell.edu/que...php?number=193


    We may not be able to state clearly which particle will decay at which rate, but that is it happening for "no reason."
    Those links didn't shed much light on it for me. All right, the particles tend to decay into a lower energy state. We knew that. Now, what is the reason one decays today and the one next to it decays tomorrow or the day after?
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    The decay rates aren't random, that makes no sense.
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    Quote Originally Posted by delsydebothom
    Quote Originally Posted by marnixR
    small correction : it is still possible that whilst individual events are random, the sum of many events is still predictable in a probabilistic sense
    e.g. think radio-active decay
    Radioactive decay happens for no reason?
    whilst the basic physics behind the instability of radio-active elements is fairly well understood, it still doesn't help us to determine the exact moment that an individual atom will decay

    i use the word "random" in the latter sense, not in the sense of "without any known cause"
    "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away." (Philip K. Dick)
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    Quote Originally Posted by Harold14370
    Quote Originally Posted by inow
    This doesn't look like "no reason" to me:

    http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu...es/allfor.html
    http://www2.slac.stanford.edu/vvc/theory/decays.html
    http://www.particleadventure.org/decay_intro.html
    http://curious.astro.cornell.edu/que...php?number=193


    We may not be able to state clearly which particle will decay at which rate, but that is it happening for "no reason."
    Those links didn't shed much light on it for me. All right, the particles tend to decay into a lower energy state. We knew that. Now, what is the reason one decays today and the one next to it decays tomorrow or the day after?
    This particles must all have the potential to decay, yes? So there's something extant that gives them that potential. At some point down the road that potential will be realized (or, to use an older phrase "reduced into act"). It seems as though the particle must have had some quality all along that determined when this would occur, or that something external to it began the process. After all, nothing can give what it ain't already got.
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    Quote Originally Posted by delsydebothom
    This particles must all have the potential to decay, yes? So there's something extant that gives them that potential. At some point down the road that potential will be realized (or, to use an older phrase "reduced into act"). It seems as though the particle must have had some quality all along that determined when this would occur, or that something external to it began the process. After all, nothing can give what it ain't already got.
    If we were talking about the roll of dice, we could say there is a deterministic answer. If you knew the mass of the dice, the initial velocity, rotational velocity, etc., you could predict the outcome. But since you don't, the best you can do is predict a probability. Radioactive decay is different, because we have no theory to predict it, even if we knew all there is to know about the particle. I think we are dealing with quantum weirdness here.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chronman
    The decay rates aren't random, that makes no sense.
    In the gross sense they're not. We describe them in probabilistic terms. But on an atom to atom basis, they're random. It certainly does not make sense as you say, but it certainly is true.
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  20. #19  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Harold14370
    Radioactive decay is different, because we have no theory to predict it
    Right, it's different to us until we have a theory to predict it. Better simile than dice I think is bubbles popping. A skilled clown can roughly predict when a bubble will pop (understanding atmospheric factors, soap composition, wall thickness, spin, etc.) though to less observant folk all soap bubbles of a given size are alike and their lifespan is completely random.

    Proximity to the sun (gravity?) might affect radioactive decay rates, though we're seeing that with Earth's elliptical orbit and the variation is small enough to be doubtful.
    A pong by any other name is still a pong. -williampinn
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    Quote Originally Posted by delsydebothom

    This particles must all have the potential to decay, yes? So there's something extant that gives them that potential. At some point down the road that potential will be realized (or, to use an older phrase "reduced into act"). It seems as though the particle must have had some quality all along that determined when this would occur, or that something external to it began the process. After all, nothing can give what it ain't already got.
    Correct. Random does not mean "without a reason or potential". Every event has a cause. Random events are events with more than one possible outcome.
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    WYSIWYG Moderator marnixR's Avatar
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    or events where the possible outcomes mushrooms depending on small variations in the initial conditions - so small, in fact, that we may not notice them, and assume that identical (instead of near-identical) starting conditions lead to different outcomes
    "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away." (Philip K. Dick)
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    Quote Originally Posted by pong
    Right, it's different to us until we have a theory to predict it.
    In the case of radioactive decay, our current theory states that we cannot - ever - predict it. Our theory states that it has no causal agent, no measurable preliminary state that allows prediction, and the probabilistic description is the only one possible.
    Quote Originally Posted by cypress
    Every event has a cause.
    That is a mistake - cause and effect ascription is human framing of events, a property of our analyses or description in language, not reality.

    This is visible in even ordinary events, such as rain. If you try to define a "cause" for the event of rain hitting the top of your head, you'll end up in a muddle. Gravity?
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    Quote Originally Posted by iceaura
    Quote Originally Posted by pong
    Right, it's different to us until we have a theory to predict it.
    In the case of radioactive decay, our current theory states that we cannot - ever - predict it. Our theory states that it has no causal agent, no measurable preliminary state that allows prediction, and the probabilistic description is the only one possible.
    Quote Originally Posted by cypress
    Every event has a cause.
    That is a mistake - cause and effect ascription is human framing of events, a property of our analyses or description in language, not reality.

    This is visible in even ordinary events, such as rain. If you try to define a "cause" for the event of rain hitting the top of your head, you'll end up in a muddle. Gravity?
    I disagree. Anything with a begining (including rain and gravity) must have a cause. That is the basis of physics and physical chemistry (QM and Thermo). Your examples both have causes. Certainly both are difficult to regress to the final cause but I can't think of any respected physical scientist who would take your side of this argument. But maybe I am missing something so putting aside my argument from authority can you explain why either of these two examples have no first cause? If not these examples perhaps you would offer a new example?
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    Quote Originally Posted by iceaura
    Quote Originally Posted by pong
    Right, it's different to us until we have a theory to predict it.
    In the case of radioactive decay, our current theory states that we cannot - ever - predict it. Our theory states that it has no causal agent, no measurable preliminary state that allows prediction, and the probabilistic description is the only one possible.
    Quote Originally Posted by cypress
    Every event has a cause.
    That is a mistake - cause and effect ascription is human framing of events, a property of our analyses or description in language, not reality.

    This is visible in even ordinary events, such as rain. If you try to define a "cause" for the event of rain hitting the top of your head, you'll end up in a muddle. Gravity?
    I think the idea of cause and effect is drawn out of the fact that nothing can give what it doesn't have. Nothing can per se add potential to itself (for if it changes or does something, that potential existed all along, and came from somewhere). Potential can only be realized by or because of actual things--things that are not longer "potential" but actual.

    Common sense is important because, really, it has a degree of certainty that even the best supported scientific theories cannot claim; the fact that you have a hand and can move it is more certain by far than the fact that you hand is made of atoms. The certainty that atoms exist is compromised if we chip away at common sense, because without it, the premises we used to demonstrate that atoms exist will fall.

    I think the same is true with regard to events that appear not to have a cause; common sense tells us they must. If we deny common sense its rightful place, then we need to go back and reexamine every scientific experiment that was built upon commonsensical categories.
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    Quote Originally Posted by cypress
    I disagree. Anything with a begining (including rain and gravity) must have a cause.
    You are confusing your chosen means of description with reality. The map is not the territory.
    Quote Originally Posted by delsybothom
    I think the same is true with regard to events that appear not to have a cause; common sense tells us they must.
    Common sense is what tells you the world is flat, what goes up must come down, bees are ruled by kings, and glaciations never happened.

    Can you tell me the cause of rain hitting your head, for example?
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    Quote Originally Posted by iceaura
    That is a mistake - cause and effect ascription is human framing of events, a property of our analyses or description in language, not reality.
    So philosphically bankrupt as a statement I had to check it five times to confirm it had actually come from you. I am now under heavy sedation. If I ever recover my sense of equanimity I shall query you on how you arrived at such a bizarre conclusion.

    As far as maps go I believe the jury is still out, or at least there have been an endless series of appeals.
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    You are confusing your chosen means of description with reality. The map is not the territory.
    Our ideas and phantasms don't put us in contact with themselves, at least not directly. They put us in contact with sensible objects.

    A map only makes sense because it is a representation of real sense memory; an artistic depiction of previously acquired sensory knowledge.
    Common sense is what tells you the world is flat
    Since the visually sensing the whole world is not part of common sense (viz. what everyone has sensed in common), common sense cannot, by definition, tell us about the shape of the world.

    what goes up must come down
    Well, it's going down relative to some point in space. ;p

    bees are ruled by kings, and glaciations never happened.
    Both bees and glaciers have only been sensed by some people. So neither can really be included in "common sense". Common sense means, in the way I'm using it, those sensory experiences held in common by all fully-functional people.

    Can you tell me the cause of rain hitting your head, for example?
    I can deduce, once rain has fallen on my head, that rain can potentially fall on my head. Since rain has fallen on my head, I can also deduce that something has reduced that potential into act. I may not know what it is, but that doesn't mean I don't know there's some reason the rain is falling on my head. I may even take a shot in the dark and think that there is some intelligible reason, and seek to understand it. If, on the other hand, I assume the reason is not intelligible, I will never seek to understand it. If I thought that way, I suppose I would look at science scornfully. After all, the scientific endeavor operates under the assumption that the world operates according to understandable laws. Even more extraordinary, that these laws are understandable by us. But if hitting a snag leads one to conclude that this is not the case, and one slips into a kind of back-door nihilism, the risk of undermining the very motive for doing science must be keenly felt. A universe in which there exist causeless particulars is a universe that is, on a very primal level, irrational. And an irrational universe is not one that can be understood by a reason-guided hermeneutic, like science.

    Happily, I think you're mistaken. Sadly, the kind of debate it would take for me to explain why would be way off-topic.

    If you know anyone who has written a book that ably defends your position, though, I'd be eager to read it.
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    Quote Originally Posted by ophiolite
    So philosphically bankrupt as a statement I had to check it five times to confirm it had actually come from you.
    Oh c'mon. It's vernacular, maybe ("reality"), but nothing that can't be nodded at without cramping your neck.
    Quote Originally Posted by delysbothom
    A map only makes sense because it is a representation of real sense memory; an artistic depiction of previously acquired sensory knowledge.
    The other way around: previously acquired sensory data only "make sense" after they have been mapped somehow, into a sensible system of perception and entity.

    Even maps of complete fantasy make sense - especially, in fact. Unstructured sense memory is a "bloomin', buzzin' confusion" (IIRC, William James).

    Do you see the moon rise, or the earth turn? Which way do the people with common sense see it?
    Quote Originally Posted by delysbothom
    I may not know what it is, but that doesn't mean I don't know there's some reason the rain is falling on my head.
    And being really, really sure of that saves you the trouble of trying to figure out exactly what that might be. But you might want to try it sometime, as an exercise.
    Quote Originally Posted by delys
    Common sense means, in the way I'm using it, those sensory experiences held in common by all fully-functional people.
    Pretty short list. Certainly doesn't include the idea that anything with a beginning has a cause.
    Quote Originally Posted by delysbothom
    If you know anyone who has written a book that ably defends your position, though, I'd be eager to read it.
    Tao Te Ching is famous, easily found. Anything written by Karl Popper. Anything written by Gregory Bateson. The standards.
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    Quote Originally Posted by iceaura
    Quote Originally Posted by cypress
    I disagree. Anything with a begining (including rain and gravity) must have a cause.
    You are confusing your chosen means of description with reality. The map is not the territory.
    Wow! I guess my only response is to ask you to offer an example of a causeless something with a beginning.

    Can you tell me the cause of rain hitting your head, for example?
    Most certainly are you even breathing?
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    Quote Originally Posted by cypress
    Can you tell me the cause of rain hitting your head, for example?


    Most certainly are you even breathing?
    So, don't hold back - what is it?

    Quote Originally Posted by cypress
    Wow! I guess my only response is to ask you to offer an example of a causeless something with a beginning.
    The solar system. Rain. Human speech. Angiosperm physiology.

    Or if you want to get hardcore: radioactive decay. Photon interference in the two slit experiment. The current theory forbids the existence of a cause.
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    i think that iceaura and cypress are 2 ships passing in the night: one gives examples of material causes, whilst the other refers to final causes

    i assume we can all agree that the two concepts are not even remotely related ?
    "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away." (Philip K. Dick)
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    Quote Originally Posted by iceaura
    Quote Originally Posted by cypress
    Can you tell me the cause of rain hitting your head, for example?


    Most certainly are you even breathing?
    So, don't hold back - what is it?
    rain hitting head: velocity and trajectory of condensed and coalesced atmospheric moisture influenced by wind forces align with velocity of head.

    Quote Originally Posted by cypress
    Wow! I guess my only response is to ask you to offer an example of a causeless something with a beginning.
    The solar system. Rain. Human speech. Angiosperm physiology.

    Or if you want to get hardcore: radioactive decay. Photon interference in the two slit experiment. The current theory forbids the existence of a cause.
    solar system: Finely tuned and balanced physical and cosmic forces gathers up mater and shapes it into solar system.

    radioactive decay: unstable atomic forces build cumulative wave functions exceeding the ability to hold atom together and it decays.

    difficult to explain causes are not the same as "causeless" which means happens spontaneously without a prime mover.
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    Quote Originally Posted by cypress
    rain hitting head: velocity and trajectory of condensed and coalesced atmospheric moisture influenced by wind forces align with velocity of head.
    Describing something does not tell me what caused it. And the description seems technically inaccurate - the velocities and trajectories (?) do not "align" - maybe "intersect"? The cause of the intersection remains to be specified, by you.
    Quote Originally Posted by cypress
    solar system: Finely tuned and balanced physical and cosmic forces gathers up mater and shapes it into solar system.
    ? Nothing "tuned" or "balanced" in advance about any "cosmic forces" (whatever you mean by "force"), and the matter does not seem to have been shaped by any outside agency - it seems to have self-organized. You describe forces waiting around for the matter to come by, so they can gather it up and shape it - is that your intent?
    Quote Originally Posted by cypress
    radioactive decay: unstable atomic forces build cumulative wave functions exceeding the ability to hold atom together and it decays.
    Forces don't build wave functions, you have postulated a mysterious entity with the ability to hold an atom together that I don't think exists, and what you mean by an "unstable force" or a "cumulative wave function" at the atomic level I have no idea.

    But your task is a difficult one, so mockery is not appropriate. Another go?
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    Quote Originally Posted by iceaura
    Quote Originally Posted by cypress
    rain hitting head: velocity and trajectory of condensed and coalesced atmospheric moisture influenced by wind forces align with velocity of head.
    Describing something does not tell me what caused it. And the description seems technically inaccurate - the velocities and trajectories (?) do not "align" - maybe "intersect"? The cause of the intersection remains to be specified, by you.
    Clearly your definition of "cause" is unusual. Can't help that you don't agree with my word choice.

    Quote Originally Posted by cypress
    solar system: Finely tuned and balanced physical and cosmic forces gathers up mater and shapes it into solar system.
    ? Nothing "tuned" or "balanced" in advance about any "cosmic forces" (whatever you mean by "force"), and the matter does not seem to have been shaped by any outside agency - it seems to have self-organized. You describe forces waiting around for the matter to come by, so they can gather it up and shape it - is that your intent?
    No I mean the 40 or so key physical forces and processes that make up the rules which hold our micro and macro world together. Again your definition of cause is weird.

    Quote Originally Posted by cypress
    radioactive decay: unstable atomic forces build cumulative wave functions exceeding the ability to hold atom together and it decays.
    Forces don't build wave functions, you have postulated a mysterious entity with the ability to hold an atom together that I don't think exists, and what you mean by an "unstable force" or a "cumulative wave function" at the atomic level I have no idea.

    But your task is a difficult one, so mockery is not appropriate. Another go?
    No, I don't think so, You seem more interested in poking at my word usage and definitions than attempting to come to an understanding. Guess your training in QM is lacking also. The force of the wind does build wave amplitude in the ocean by the way.
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  36. #35  
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    Quote Originally Posted by cypress
    Clearly your definition of "cause" is unusual.
    I have a reasonably clear idea of what the word means when it has meaning. If that strikes you as unusual, I am not surprised.

    Description of event - even by misusing big words such as "align" and "velocity" - does not establish cause.
    Quote Originally Posted by cypress
    No I mean the 40 or so key physical forces and processes that make up the rules which hold our micro and macro world together. Again your definition of cause is weird.
    Vaguely referring to a collective of physical "forces" does not establish any of them as the cause of anything, in any normal sense of the word "cause".
    Quote Originally Posted by cypress
    Guess your training in QM is lacking also. The force of the wind does build wave amplitude in the ocean by the way.
    So does that illustrate your understanding of the relationship between "forces" and "waves" in the nucleus of an atom?

    That is the picture in your mind when you say: "unstable atomic forces build cumulative wave functions" ?
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    Random processes seem well suited to generate variations needed to power adaptations to existing function required to counter environmental variations. Experimental observations of mutations demonstrate that it is quite effective at breaking and weakening function to ward off threats from targeted chemicals and parasites, etc. Can we also show that random mutation routinely provides the feed-stock for improved function and new function with reasonable frequency? If not random mutation, then what does?
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  38. #37  
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    Quote Originally Posted by cypress
    Random processes seem well suited to generate variations needed to power adaptations to existing function required to counter environmental variations. Experimental observations of mutations demonstrate that it is quite effective at breaking and weakening function to ward off threats from targeted chemicals and parasites, etc. Can we also show that random mutation routinely provides the feed-stock for improved function and new function with reasonable frequency? If not random mutation, then what does?
    This thread is not going to be about you. Start pushing your version of evolution here and we will merge your posts with the macro/micro thread.
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    Thats hardly surprising. The question is closely related to the OP. I have always suspected the explanatory power of evolutionary theory was weak. I had no idea it was so weak that it's advocates are reduced to censorship. Is there something wrong with admitting that you don't have an answer?
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  40. #39  
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    Quote Originally Posted by cypress
    Thats hardly surprising. The question is closely related to the OP. I have always suspected the explanatory power of evolutionary theory was weak. I had no idea it was so weak that it's advocates are reduced to censorship. Is there something wrong with admitting that you don't have an answer?
    The OP wants to know what we mean when we talk about mutation being random, whether we mean that it is without cause or merely non-predictable. Asking him or anyone else in this thread whether random mutation can do this or that does not address this question. Asking what else might do the job also does not feed into the topic.

    You're only crying "censorship" because you're looking for another outlet for your claims. That will only serve to derail this thread. It is part of my function here to stop that from happening. Please direct any further discussion regarding moderation to the Site Feedback forum or to the site administrators.
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    Quote Originally Posted by daisy
    I hear a lot of people talk about the mutations that help drive evolution being "random". What does that mean? That there is no logical explanation for why the mutation occurred? Or does it simply mean that the various causes that led to a particular mutation are so many and so obscure, that we cannot say for sure what gave rise to it?
    We know many causes of mutations, and most likely will discover others, so we have reason to believe there is a "logical explanation" for why most mutations occur.

    But we still say that many - probably almost all - of them are random.

    We say that because they are produced according to probability distributions among the possible mutations - rather than appearing disproportionately at some sites, and not at other equally likely sites.

    When choices from a probability distribution are distributed according to it, we say those choices are "random". At least, that's one way to handle things.
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    Duplication of DNA is a major source of mutations due to errors in the duplication event and a failure of the proofreading mechanisms in place. In fact, there is a difference in proofreading capabilities between organisms, giving different mutation rates between HIV virus and a chimpanzee.

    Then there is the DNA damage caused by environmental influences. An X-ray doesn't really aim at a specific genomic location. It hits where it hits.

    Not that the entire genome is equally prone to the same amount of mutations.

    Duplication of DNA is more reliable in certain regions than others for instance and obviously that will result in a different mutation rate for different regions.

    But generally it is quite random. If you want to see the big picture. And I can assure you that you want to know only the big picture, because in the event you don't, it will get pretty frikkin' technical pretty fast.
    "Kill them all and let God sort them out."

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