February 19, 2010

Joe Stack’s Flying Circus – Too Soon ?

Filed under: Our World — Tags: , , — boomaga @ 1:43 am

You’ve heard of the plane crash in TX

The moral of a story like Joe Stack’s is:

Burned your house, then kamikaze

In your Piper Cherokee

If they won’t let you cheat on your taxes


February 18, 2010

Evolution: Does symmetry indicate design ?

Filed under: Our World — Tags: , , — boomaga @ 11:00 pm


I heard this argued the other night:   “Symmetry indicates design.”

(My inner proofreader wants to substitute “implies” for “indicates,” or revoice the verb:   “Symmetry is indicative of design.”    Anyhoo… )

Whoever originated that thought really doesn’t see the connection between systems of human industry and systems of biological development:   the assembly line, interchangeable parts, quality control, test marketing, they’re more than just symbolic, they are proven methods.   But in both cases, these methods weren’t arrived at with a sudden great epiphany – no one human sat down and sketched out on a bar napkin the techniques of industrial production – these methods were tested, refined, survived attrition, gradually came about as the best and most efficient ways of doing things.   And so while a manufactured object may have symmetry as a matter of function or aesthetic, so can a biological form.   Yes, I would say symmetry as a quality is easier to find in living matter than, say, in your average rock.  But then you have river rocks – often rounded to near-perfect symmetrical oblongs.    Did the river design these rocks ?   Or is it just the result of forces ?

Symmetry isn’t a function or a process, it’s a quality, and it has to be judged on a relative scale because nothing in the universe is ever going to be perfectly symmetrical down to the very subatomic level, not ever, not while particles spin and wobble, forever indeterminable.  Bodies in space are subject to their own gravity and will conform as closely as possible to a sphere as an extension of a single point in three dimensional space, but there will always be other forces acting on it causing that sphere to be distended in one way or another – even on a cluster of neutrons.   Symmetry in biological designs are NO accident, it’s because in many contexts there is an advantage in it.   When a cell splits up into two like cells, when the double helix splits in two to be templates for copies, and cells further divide into four and eight etc., or when capillaries in leaves split evenly on either side of an axis, or a family tree describing a creature’s genetic forebears is a perfectly symmetrical fractal, it’s not because God likes even numbers better than odd numbers.   (If you concluded that God favors symmetry and even numbers simply because it seems to be a feature of so many systems in the natural world, I would have to conclude about you that you believe the leading brand of a product must be best, that might makes right, and that π shouldn’t exist.)   A tree’s symmetry allows it to balance and reach heights which would otherwise not be possible – you notice that if a tree becomes unbalanced, it falls over.     Survival made it advantageous to be able to triangulate the distance of an object, and one way to do this is by using light – optics show us that there just isn’t any better way of doing visual triangulation than having two alike photosensitive organs equidistant from a middle point. These eyes can be rudimentary or sophisticated, motion-sensitive, it can see in any number of light spectra or qualities, but the fact that the eyes are more or less symmetrical is incidental – it is because it works best that way.  And if symmetry is considered more attractive in the process of sexual selection, then the trait is self-perpetuating – there doesn’t need to be any interference from a designer to encourage the trait.

Of course, just saying that no expression of an ideal shape or form will ever be perfect is a bit of a moot point – π only needs to be π for a given decimal point for acceptable accuracy for (the all important)  “all intents and purposes.”     But the point is, symmetry has practical use in design, there is no doubt.    Symmetry pleases physics – symmetry allows an object of a particular size to inherit physical characteristics of an object bigger than it actually is.   It is impossible to imagine a flying creature or airplane, no matter what shape or size, with non-symmetrical wings.   Is that because God, then Orville and Wilbur, decided that this symmetry would be their own little design “signature” ?    No, it’s because birds that have one wing bigger than the other tend to fly in circles, fall to the ground and get eaten before they’ve had a chance to mate.

You know, it occurs to me that there may be an expression for symmetry, but I’m no mathematician – surely there’s some Greek letter or something that represents how alike two sets are, how much they balance out, how much they’re equal…   oh, man, maybe I need to invent one…   hmmmmmm = thinkin’….

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