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Thread: "Survival of the fittest"?

  1. #1 "Survival of the fittest"? 
    Forum Professor Daecon's Avatar
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    I was having a discussion with a friend about the concept of survival of the fittest as a mechanism for driving evolutionary change. He subscribes to the standard idea of beneficial mutation = more successful lifeform, however I take an opposite view which I guess "non-survival of the least fit" although it doesn't quite have the same ring to it.

    Instead of beneficial mutations being actively selected for by the environment, I believe that nature pretty much ignores both "beneficial" and non-influential mutations and only actively selects *against* harmful mutations.
    "Oh, you have stronger leg ligaments that allow you to jump higher/run faster than everyone else? Tell me all about it after I stop eating this guy with a mutation for no feet..."

    Nature doesn't really care if you can out-compete everyone else, at least not until all the individuals left are yourself and everyone else without any disadvantages - which, let's face it, is unlikely to happen given the prevalence of harmful mutations over beneficial ones.

    The was I see it, evolution isn't about beneficial mutations vs. everyone else, but about *harmful* mutations vs. everyone else. Nature culls the weakest (freeing up the resources they'd otherwise consume) and lets everyone else get on with their lives, whether they have a "beneficial" mutation or not.

    My friend says this isn't really much of a distinction, but I (naturally) think it is.


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  3. #2  
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    I would say that you are both correct.
    You are simply stating the converse of his statement, in the same way that "The weak die" is the converse of "The strong survive".
    The converse does not necessarily follow (from a 'logic' point of view); but it is true in the case of Natural selection.


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    Quote Originally Posted by RedPanda View Post
    I would say that you are both correct.
    You are simply stating the converse of his statement, in the same way that "The weak die" is the converse of "The strong survive".
    The converse does not necessarily follow (from a 'logic' point of view); but it is true in the case of Natural selection.
    Especially when helped along their way by guys like Stalin, Chairman Mao, etc. jocular
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    My friend says this isn't really much of a distinction, but I (naturally) think it is.
    As a statement with nothing attached, there's little difference. But as a basis for thinking about the matter, there can be a huge difference.

    Many people presume that there must be an adaptive benefit to some feature of anatomy because it's been selected for. It doesn't need to be beneficial or positive.

    If some biological or anatomical feature has survived, it may just have been irrelevant to survival (so far), so there's never (yet) been any circumstance in which that feature would have any link to higher death rates or lowered reproductive success rates. And remember, just as all individual living things die, so all species of living things die out - eventually. One day, circumstances will change in such a way that we will either go extinct altogether or be so transformed by evolutionary changes/selection/whatever that we will no longer exist. And our successors in turn will also die out - sometime before our sun ends it all for everything.

    So you're both right, but I prefer your version as being more useful for more clarity and better thinking about the topic.
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    i've always been a bit wary of the "survival of the fittest" shorthand to describe natural selection - it seems to imply too much the "nature red in tooth and claw" of Tennyson, whereas what really matters is (a) surviving (b) finding a suitable mate and (c) leaving plenty of offspring

    to be successful in the evolutionary race you need to pass all 3 papers e.g. having a 1000-female harem doesn't count for much if you're sterile
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    Interesting.

    Don't know if I believe that only the fittest survive. What about things like mental attitude and determination?

    Would they not factor into survival also, in certain instances?

    Correct me if I am wrong.
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    Quote Originally Posted by babe View Post
    Interesting.

    Don't know if I believe that only the fittest survive. What about things like mental attitude and determination?

    Would they not factor into survival also, in certain instances?

    Correct me if I am wrong.
    We are all born with the DNA that gets expressed into our developing brains. That DNA surely did evolve, just like everything else. Then, there has also been a cultural evolution happening, which is that which we learn from those around us as we grow up. Both of these things certainly form part of this "fitness".



    As to the OP: I am not happy with a "weeding out of the weakest" take on evolution.

    Quote Originally Posted by Daecon
    Instead of beneficial mutations being actively selected for by the environment, I believe that nature pretty much ignores both "beneficial" and non-influential mutations and only actively selects *against* harmful mutations.
    That doesn't really allow for more advantageous traits being selected for on its own, i.e. it doesn't allow for change in alleles, only for the maintenance of existing ones. That stops evolution in it's tracks, which means it could never start in the first place.
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  9. #8  
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    Quote Originally Posted by KALSTER View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by babe View Post
    Interesting.

    Don't know if I believe that only the fittest survive. What about things like mental attitude and determination?

    Would they not factor into survival also, in certain instances?

    Correct me if I am wrong.
    We are all born with the DNA that gets expressed into our developing brains. That DNA surely did evolve, just like everything else. Then, there has also been a cultural evolution happening, which is that which we learn from those around us as we grow up. Both of these things certainly form part of this "fitness".



    As to the OP: I am not happy with a "weeding out of the weakest" take on evolution.

    Quote Originally Posted by Daecon
    Instead of beneficial mutations being actively selected for by the environment, I believe that nature pretty much ignores both "beneficial" and non-influential mutations and only actively selects *against* harmful mutations.
    That doesn't really allow for more advantageous traits being selected for on its own, i.e. it doesn't allow for change in alleles, only for the maintenance of existing ones. That stops evolution in it's tracks, which means it could never start in the first place.
    Thank you.
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    Quote Originally Posted by KALSTER View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Daecon
    Instead of beneficial mutations being actively selected for by the environment, I believe that nature pretty much ignores both "beneficial" and non-influential mutations and only actively selects *against* harmful mutations.
    That doesn't really allow for more advantageous traits being selected for on its own, i.e. it doesn't allow for change in alleles, only for the maintenance of existing ones. That stops evolution in it's tracks, which means it could never start in the first place.
    There's nothing suggesting alleles can't change as time goes on, just that if those changes make the individual more likely to be killed off by illness, accident or predators.

    If 10% of the population of a species have a mutation, say 5% for better camouflage and 5% for neon polka dots, the polka dot 5% will be the first to be culled by natural circumstances leaving the camouflage 5% to carry on and breed with the 90% majority of that species.

    The ones with beneficial mutations aren't really "succeeding" as long as those with harmful mutations provide a sort-of buffer by either being more appealing to predators, or less efficient at resource-gathering, etc.

    Non-harmful mutations will be dispersed among the gene pool and evolution will happen, allele frequency will change and life will go on.
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    Quote Originally Posted by jocular View Post
    Especially when helped along their way by guys like Stalin, Chairman Mao, etc. jocular
    I don't think they had much to do with evolution.
    And they didn't just kill the weak.
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  12. #11  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Daecon View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by KALSTER View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Daecon
    Instead of beneficial mutations being actively selected for by the environment, I believe that nature pretty much ignores both "beneficial" and non-influential mutations and only actively selects *against* harmful mutations.
    That doesn't really allow for more advantageous traits being selected for on its own, i.e. it doesn't allow for change in alleles, only for the maintenance of existing ones. That stops evolution in it's tracks, which means it could never start in the first place.
    There's nothing suggesting alleles can't change as time goes on, just that if those changes make the individual more likely to be killed off by illness, accident or predators.

    If 10% of the population of a species have a mutation, say 5% for better camouflage and 5% for neon polka dots, the polka dot 5% will be the first to be culled by natural circumstances leaving the camouflage 5% to carry on and breed with the 90% majority of that species.

    The ones with beneficial mutations aren't really "succeeding" as long as those with harmful mutations provide a sort-of buffer by either being more appealing to predators, or less efficient at resource-gathering, etc.

    Non-harmful mutations will be dispersed among the gene pool and evolution will happen, allele frequency will change and life will go on.
    This much wasn't really clear from the quote I commented on. Maybe the confusion comes with what is understood under "actively selects".

    It is true that reproductive success is the key factor. No matter what you look like or how much you differ from the median, if you can reproduce, you are successful. A large percentage of mutations are deleterious, so those traits will die out. The "fittest" will survive, which will include a spectrum of reproductive successes.


    So, basically, we agree with both you and your friend. I am not sure where you draw a distinction? Can you highlight the differences you see, because atm it just looks like you are saying the same thing in different ways.
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    Let's complicate the picture further. A harmful mutation today is a benign mutation tomorrw and a beneficial one the day after. Environments change and so too does the value of a given mutation in that different environment. The term fitness is environment specific. Stephen Hawkins is exceptionally fit because in an environment that values intellectual capacity we have made sure his needs are catered for. He would have been buggered in the Neolithic period. However his demise would likely have followed the birth of his children, so from an evolutionary point of view would have been irrelevant.
    Last edited by John Galt; August 1st, 2013 at 08:07 AM. Reason: Correct typing error.
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  14. #13  
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    Quote Originally Posted by KALSTER View Post
    So, basically, we agree with both you and your friend. I am not sure where you draw a distinction? Can you highlight the differences you see, because atm it just looks like you are saying the same thing in different ways.
    He says evolution is actively driven by beneficial mutations, whereas those with harmful or non-influential mutations are just along for the ride, and if those others can reproduce then good for them, if not then no big deal.

    I'm suggesting that evolution is actively driven by harmful mutations, whereas those with beneficial or non-influential mutations are just along for the ride, and if those others can reproduce then good for them, if not then no big deal.

    With predators and resource-gathering efficiency culling the "least fit" then everyone else can reproduce regardless, instead of those with beneficial mutations out-competing everyone else.

    (Of course, perhaps there is no real distinction and I'm just arguing meaningless semantics...)
    Last edited by Daecon; August 1st, 2013 at 08:03 AM. Reason: typos
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Galt View Post
    He would have been buggered in the Neolithic period.
    Well, that's definitely not the road to reproductive success!
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    Quote Originally Posted by Daecon View Post
    He says evolution is actively driven by beneficial mutations, whereas those with harmful or non-influential mutations are just along for the ride, and if those others can reproduce then good for them, if not then no big deal.

    I'm suggesting that evolution is actively driven by harmful mutations, whereas those with beneficial or non-influential mutations are just along for the ride, and if those others can reproduce then good for them, if not then no big deal.
    They are both true. Some population groups survive better and get to pass on their genes. Some groups don't survive so well and are less likely to pass on their genes.

    (Of course, perhaps there is no real distinction and I'm just arguing meaningless semantics...)
    That sounds about right. It is all about relative changes in survival rate.
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Galt View Post
    Let's complicate the picture further. A harmful mutation today is a benign mutation tomorrw and a beneficial one the day after. Environments change and so too does the value of a given mutation in that different environment. The term fitness is environment specific. Stephen Hawkins is exceptionally fit because in an environment that values intellectual capacity we have made sure his needs are catered for. He would have been buggered in the Neolithic period. However his demise would likely have followed the birth of his children, so from an evolutionary point of view would have been irrelevant.
    Did you just make the rookie mistake of talking about the enigmatic Stephen "Hawkins"? Good point though.

    Quote Originally Posted by Daecon
    I'm suggesting that evolution is actively driven by harmful mutations, whereas those with beneficial or non-influential mutations are just along for the ride, and if those others can reproduce then good for them, if not then no big deal.

    With predators and resource-gathering efficiency culling the "least fit" then everyone else can reproduce regardless, instead of those with beneficial mutations out-competing everyone else.
    Again, the way you phrase it leaves little room for the more advantageous alleles to point towards future avenues of evolution.

    Think of it like this: If there were only ever viable offspring, with some having a possible advantage, would evolution still take place? I think so. Those with better genes would simply produce more offspring and the advantageous alleles will diffuse into the population over time, increasing overall "fitness" in that particular niche.

    However, if there were only offspring of either equal reproductive potential and those without any, how would evolution take place?

    Of course, in reality there is a mix of both of the above, but the point is that advantageous alleles are more of a driver of evolution than deleterious ones are, or at least more than those with zero viability. No?
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Galt View Post
    Let's complicate the picture further. A harmful mutation today is a benign mutation tomorrw and a beneficial one the day after. Environments change and so too does the value of a given mutation in that different environment. The term fitness is environment specific. Stephen Hawkins is exceptionally fit because in an environment that values intellectual capacity we have made sure his needs are catered for. He would have been buggered in the Neolithic period. However his demise would likely have followed the birth of his children, so from an evolutionary point of view would have been irrelevant.
    exactly ! people far too often speak glibly about detrimental mutations, whereas what really matters is the FIT of the individual to its environment
    if the environment changes then the position of the individual on the fitness curve will change

    obviously there are some mutations that are lethal whatever, but more often than not things are not that clear-cut

    case in point : Nature Studies: Forget the royal baby – July’s real star was the humble butterfly

    butterflies were on a long-term decline after a long series of cold and wet summers, now bounce back when conditions are more to their liking
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    Quote Originally Posted by babe View Post
    Interesting.

    Don't know if I believe that only the fittest survive. What about things like mental attitude and determination?

    Would they not factor into survival also, in certain instances?

    Correct me if I am wrong.
    Survival of the fittest is not about who is the strongest, most intelligent, or leaving plenty of offspring but its about those who are most responsive to change.
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    Quote Originally Posted by noah0010 View Post
    Survival of the fittest is not about who is the strongest, most intelligent, or leaving plenty of offspring but its about those who are most responsive to change.
    Incorrect.
    It is about all of those things - and more.

    It doesn't matter how responsive you are to change; if you do not leave offspring then you are an evolutionary dead end.
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    Quote Originally Posted by noah0010 View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by babe View Post
    Interesting.

    Don't know if I believe that only the fittest survive. What about things like mental attitude and determination?

    Would they not factor into survival also, in certain instances?

    Correct me if I am wrong.

    Survival of the fittest is not about who is the strongest, most intelligent, or leaving plenty of offspring but its about those who are most responsive to change.
    I was speaking of Survival, as in the wild, lost, or under torture.
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    Quote Originally Posted by RedPanda View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by noah0010 View Post
    Survival of the fittest is not about who is the strongest, most intelligent, or leaving plenty of offspring but its about those who are most responsive to change.
    Incorrect.
    It is about all of those things - and more.

    It doesn't matter how responsive you are to change; if you do not leave offspring then you are an evolutionary dead end.
    In that context, yes. If your line (offspring) doesn't continue, then there is no survival.
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