Evolving pseudo-creatures in computer simulation to run a short course

I love the idea of simulating evolution through computer models. The purpose of such an exercise is not so much to prove that evolution happened, or to prove that complexity can evolve from simple rulesets (though that’s certainly important), but to show that randomness and flexibility in solving tasks can create novel approaches that are more creative even than anything that intelligences like ourselves have worked out.

This particular example shows some behaviours from creatures built out of four types of blocks that emulate hopping, running and dragging themselves along a course, in a simulation where creatures that make it across a trial field quickest are rewarded by having more offspring in subsequent generations.


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Turtle chases tomato

Here I am on Labour Day (that’s right, check that extra U!), slaving away at some code rather than playing on the blogosphere. I mean, sure, it’s FUN to program, but I’m still neglecting my blogoduties. So, here’s some squee filler.

You should also check out PZ’s excellent analysis of the scientific evidence for how turtles evolved their shells. It’s both informative and well-illustrated, and the illustration of the turtle fetus kinda makes me go “awww”.

Lonesome George has died

The last Galapagos tortoise, Lonesome George, has died at roughly a hundred years old. Scientists aren’t sure why he died and plan an autopsy, but Galapagos tortoises were thought to have a lifespan of about two hundred years.

George was a member of the same species of tortoise that prompted Charles Darwin, on visiting the Galapagos Islands, to first formulate the theory of evolution.

The footage of George in this clip starts at 2:03, but you may want to watch the start anyway, which tells of fishermen holding George and other iconic animals hostage to fend off conservationists who have been making the fishermen’s lives difficult.

A scientist believes in God and invented some numbers and really bad math. Therefore, religion wins.

This should hardly be newsworthy, but The Laredo Sun thought it was. Turns out Daniel Friedmann, CEO of a Canadian aerospace company and proud owner of a master’s degree in engineering physics, believes that the non-overlapping magisteria argument is wrong, that science and religion are in fact overlapping, but he also believes that they’re compatible because they point to the same answer: that Goddidit. Oh, and he apparently wrote a book called The Genesis One Code. (Starring Brobert Blangdon maybe?)

But they both agree on the timeline for the development of the universe and life on Earth, Friedmann says. He has developed a formula that converts “Bible time” to years as we know them.

When applied to calculating the age of the universe and life on Earth, the Bible consistently matches scientific estimates derived from the study of fossil timelines, the solar system and the cosmos.

His formula — 1,000 X 365 X 7,000 –was derived from references in religious texts and science. The first number is found in Psalms, which says a year for God is 1,000 years for mortals.

The second refers to the amount of days in one solar year. The third comes from scriptural study that indicates one creation day in Genesis equals 7,000 God years.

When those numbers are multiplied in human years, each creation day is an epoch of 2.56 billion years, he says. Using the formula, the biblical age of the universe is 13.74 billion years.

Scientific estimates put the universe’s age at 13.75 billion, plus or minus 0.13 billion, he says.

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Amoeba eating two paramecia

Jodi saw someone tweet this, and I need some easy content for today after a monstrous overnight last night. So have some survival of the fittest. It’s interesting to see the paramecia completely paralyzed by amoeba until they’re completely surrounded, then they freak the hell out while they’re being digested.

Still trying to sort out issues with iDevices, let me know in the comments if you’re having problems.

Elementary school kids and animation student illustrate evolution

Via PsiVid, check out this astounding animation illustrating evolution in an exceptionally clever manner. Tyler Rhodes, a student at Virginia Commonwealth University, drew a salamander-like creature, then asked elementary school students to draw a creature like his. He then took their results and asked more kids to draw creatures like those, and so on and so on, through six “generations”. He then animated the whole shebang.

Mesmerizing, no? I absolutely love this concept.

What will your kids be taught about climate science?

Ezra Klein’s coverage of the NCSE stepping into the climate change battleground is very timely, and asks many very relevant questions.

One revelation from the recent Heartland Institute document leak is that the group is crafting a K-12 curriculum to teach kids that global warming is “controversial.” Heartland officials have confirmed this. So is climate change set to join evolution as the next big classroom controversy?
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But could Heartland actually spread its views? Rosenau says that Heartland could do what creationist groups like the Discovery Institute have been doing for years and simply mail out supplemental materials to educators far and wide. “There will be teachers who are sympathetic to the skeptic view or who think the material looks useful, and they’ll say to themselves, okay, I’ll bring this into the classroom,” he explains. It’s worth noting that the Heartland Institute had already developed a video along these lines — titled “Unstoppable Solar Cycles,” which laid out the long-debunked theory that the sun is driving recent warming — and shipped it off to teachers. (These earlier efforts, according to one Heartland document, met with “only limited success.”)

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Did climate change doom Neanderthals?

Busy day. Quick link for you via Discovery News:

When climate took a turn toward the cold tens of thousands of years ago, both Neanderthals and early humans started traveling further distances to find food, found a new study.
[…]
The study also hints at what’s to come if climate change forces modern cultures to blend, as their homes become inhospitable from drought, flooding or severe weather.

“We are increasingly finding evidence of sophisticated behavior among Neanderthals, and now the question is: If they were so smart, why did they become extinct?” said Michael Barton, an anthropologist at Arizona State University in Tempe.

“Our answer is that they became extinct because they were so smart, not in spite of it,” he said. “They were doing what everyone else was doing, and how they dealt with worldwide environmental change made their population and probably other endemic populations disappear.”

A portent of what’s to come? Certainly changing climate would affect us differently this time around, since it’s toward the hotter end of the spectrum, not the colder.