Author Topic: Hello  (Read 3535 times)

Offline asterixx

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« on: April 22, 2008, 06:33:12 PM »
I've neglected to make a post here for a few weeks however, I have had a zerobot running for quite some time, and not a whole lot has happened (although I was really happy when the first replicator emerged   ).

My question is about a project that my younger brother has to do for high school, and I was wondering if anyone had any pedagogical advice. Each class member was given a topic to discuss with the class and my brother has been tasked with explaining evolution in the space of an hour or so. I told him that exploring evolution in an hour is very hard as there is clearly a mountain if really important, intriguing information on the subject. I did tell him to mention Alife simulators though, as they are becoming an important tool in our understanding. Anyway, so far he has good historical information on the development of Darwin's ideas (Malthus, Erasmus Darwin, and Lyell) and he has some good opening points. Does anyone here have any advice on this?

Thankyou in advance,

Asterixx
"Tell a man there are 300 billion stars in the universe and he'll believe you.  Tell him a bench has wet paint on it and he'll have to touch it to be sure."

Offline Numsgil

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« Reply #1 on: April 22, 2008, 07:04:31 PM »
It's very simple really.  Evolution is when God decides that He was wrong before, and tweaks His design.  No idea how you'll stretch that in to a full hour though

No, but seriously, a good conceptual way to think of evolution is a game of hot and cold.  Played with an Alzheimers patient.  Evolution sort of bumbles around trying different combinations of genes and gets messages of "hot" and "cold" back from the environment.  Because evolution can't remember anything long term, it isn't really directed, and the progress can look a bit random to an outside observer.
« Last Edit: April 22, 2008, 07:05:04 PM by Numsgil »

Offline EricL

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« Reply #2 on: April 22, 2008, 07:25:58 PM »
There's a good hour-long presentation by Dan Dennett he did at the University of WA titled "Evolution as a Natural Algorithm" that I recommend.  A link to it on-line has been posted here before but I can't find it at present.
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Offline asterixx

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« Reply #3 on: April 22, 2008, 07:40:38 PM »
I gave him my copy of Darwin's Dangerous Idea which he said he found helpful, so yeah, Dennett's ideas will most definitely get worked into his presentation. And I like that Alzheimer's analogy, although I'm not sure that would go over so well in a presentation  
"Tell a man there are 300 billion stars in the universe and he'll believe you.  Tell him a bench has wet paint on it and he'll have to touch it to be sure."

Offline shvarz

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« Reply #4 on: April 22, 2008, 08:21:21 PM »
If it's for school, then it should be very general. I probably would not go into Alife sims for that, since he'll spend too much time explaining what Alife sims are and how they work. There are several much more important things that have to be pointed out when beginning to talk about evolution (it's crazy that kids are not exposed to it until high school!):
1. Distinguish evolution from origin of life. Many-many-many people confuse the two.
2. Show the tree of life and explain what it means. Many people misinterpret the tree of life and don't really understand what it represents. "If humans came from monkeys, then how come monkeys are still around?"
3. Explain that evolution does not always mean that we have to look at fossils. Fast-replicating organisms evolve very quickly, literally in front of our eyes. Bring up evolution of viruses and bacteria as examples of evolution that we see happening from day to day - appearance of drug-resistant strains.
4. Use some model to demonstrate the principle of natural selection acting on random mutations.

Take any three of these points, you can easily spend 20 minutes explaining each - that will give you the needed hour.
"Never underestimate the power of stupid things in big numbers" - Serious Sam

Offline asterixx

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« Reply #5 on: April 23, 2008, 04:56:53 PM »
Quote from: shvarz
it's crazy that kids are not exposed to it until high school!

Yes it is.

 As for not bringing up computer simulators, he and I both agree that working-in modern applications of Darwin's ideas would not be time consuming or out of place. The substrate neutrality which Dennett refers to is a very good point, and could also help cover any analogies that are made during his presentation or if someone asks how it is possible that evolution can take place in nonliving things.
"Tell a man there are 300 billion stars in the universe and he'll believe you.  Tell him a bench has wet paint on it and he'll have to touch it to be sure."

Offline shvarz

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« Reply #6 on: April 24, 2008, 01:46:42 PM »
Well, it's your show so go for it.
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but, really, one must adapt the presentation to the audience. If you speak of great and wonderful things, but your audience is not prepared to hear them, you are just wasting your time. It's fun for you, but it's still a waste of time. An average american high-schooler has problems grasping even the most basic concepts of natural selection and mutation, because they are brainwashed by popular sci-fi movies etc., which completely misrepresent these ideas. Look, we had (maybe still have) a person here on this board who was claiming that mutation don't work in DB and nobody could figure out what he's talking about, because we all saw mutations happening in bots. After some time it turned out that his idea of mutations was based on X-men and such crap, so he thought that mutation=superpowers and since he was not seeing bots gaining superpowers he assumed that mutations are not working. That's the stuff that needs to be talked about in school. Dennet's ideas are fun but they are controversial even among scientists.
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but it's your show, so you can do what you please

P.S: Ah, speak of the devil... LOL
« Last Edit: April 24, 2008, 02:13:49 PM by shvarz »
"Never underestimate the power of stupid things in big numbers" - Serious Sam

Offline EricL

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« Reply #7 on: April 24, 2008, 04:00:40 PM »
I'll just make one point and that is that a decade ago, when I first heard it, I found Dennett's analogy between Evolution via Natural Selection and Long Division illustrative.  I think it's good mental model for newcomers in that it demonstrates the relentless inevitablilty of evolution occurring once you have the right circumstnaces (replicators with differential survival).

I agree with Shvarz in that I would avoid some of his more esoteric ideas, but I do like this analogy for getting the point across that evolution isn't some rare, one in a billion chance kind of thing.  Given a surprisingly simple set of conditions, it will and MUST occur, same as arriving at the right answer via long division by following a simple algorithm.  It counters the ID crowd's "hurricane in a juck yard assembling a 747" argument quite effectivly.

 I find that many newcomers to evolution have heard the "evolution is incredibly improbable" balony from IDer's and others and know that evolution has something to do with random mutations and therefor they find that the ID argument makes intutitive sense to them. I.e. humans and other animals are complicated things, so how could they possibly have come about by "chance" through random mutations?    Implicitly countering this argument by giving an analogy that shows that evolotution is not "chance" and not improbable, that it is in fact inevitable, is a great first step.
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Offline bacillus

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« Reply #8 on: April 24, 2008, 07:01:59 PM »
I found this link a very good way to explain the functioning of DNA and it has helped me write my own mutation-handling DNA engine, called DNAIL (although very glitchy). I wouldn't be surprised if either you knew it all already or became more confused, but it's worth looking into anyway:
DNA as seen through the eyes of a coder
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Offline Numsgil

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« Reply #9 on: April 24, 2008, 07:16:26 PM »
That's a great link!

Offline asterixx

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« Reply #10 on: April 25, 2008, 09:29:48 AM »
Quote from: EricL
I found Dennett's analogy between Evolution via Natural Selection and Long Division illustrative.  I think it's good mental model for newcomers in that it demonstrates the relentless inevitablilty of evolution occurring once you have the right circumstnaces (replicators with differential survival).

My brother and I both agree with this. It adds a great universality to evolution, and also compliments the evolution of very diverse ecosystems around sulfuric ocean vents, for example.
"Tell a man there are 300 billion stars in the universe and he'll believe you.  Tell him a bench has wet paint on it and he'll have to touch it to be sure."

Offline bacillus

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« Reply #11 on: April 26, 2008, 01:50:33 AM »
Quote from: Numsgil
That's a great link!
Thanks; I read it a long time back and took me a while to find, but the analogy is good.
"They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown."
- Carl Sagan