Re: Dawkins video

David J. Tyler (
Mon, 15 Jun 1998 14:13:40 GMT

David Tyler with a further comment on information in living things -
with particular reference to Glenn Morton's claim that polyploidy is
an example if an increase in information.

The forwarded message below was sent to me with permission to post it
in this forum. My own attempt to put a response together has been
beaten by lack of time, so I am glad to send something! Glenn should
note that some of us do not accept that certain mathematical
formulations of information theory have a direct bearing on the issue
of biologic information and complexity. They are appropriate in
their own context, but their relevance to biological issues has not
been demonstrated.

The forwarded post draws attention to Spetner's book (featured in the
video) which claims that the asserted examples of "evolution" are
actually cases of information loss. I welcome Steve Jones recent
post with material from Spetner.

Best regards,
David J. Tyler.

------- Forwarded Message Follows -------
Carl Wieland's comment on Glenn Morton's claim that the
information question has been answered:

It would seem that the technical definition of information is
somewhat outmoded. For a clearer picture of the difference between
real information and the statistical level (which
is the subject of Claude Shannon's useful, but inadequate theory), I
suggest you read the book by Werner Gitt, who is a specialist in
information science, and more than familiar with the issues. It is called
'In the Beginning was Information'. Gitt is Professor and Director (BTW,
Professor in Germany is not like the US definition where every junior
lecturer is a professor) at the Federal Institute of Physics and
Technology. Also, you could usefully read Spetner's book (the one shown in
the video.) It admittedly does not go into the technical details like
Gitt's. Spetner, who has looked at all the biological examples usually
cited of 'evolution happening', (and declared that in each case the point
mutation causes an information loss) studied signal/noise relationships in
DNA as a Johns Hopkins fellow, and has published on the subject in the
Journal of Theoretical and Mathematical biology.

It has been claimed that an example of new information arising from
evolutionary mechanisms is polyploidy in plants. Polyploidy is of two
types, autopolyploidy (where the same species just doubles or triples
chromosome number, thus making it impossible for it to interbreed with the
original population, thus a new species) and allopolyploidy, a type of
hybridisation where two species mingle their chromosomes, resulting in an
increase in chromosome number. Let me use an analogy of information on
the printed pages of a newspaper. Say I have just composed the pages of
the Wall Street Journal (WSJ). Now I start to print the pages. This is
like the example of autopolyploidy, making multiples copies of the same
information. By the time I have 2 copies, do I now have double the
information? When I have run 100,000 copies, do I have 100,000 times the
amount? Of course not. Now what about allopolyploidy? It is like I take
the WSJ and the New York Times (NYT) and tape them to each other. In the
most naive sense, I have 'more information', but not in any sense which is
useful for evolutionary theory. Let me explain. The theory posits that
once there was no information for lungs anywhere in the biospere - then it
arose by natural processes, but there was not yet any information for
feathers - this came later. This requires increasing the information
content in the only sense that counts in this debate - i.e. the creation of
new information. Dawkins' neo-Darwinism insists that random mutations
filtered by selection have raised the information in the biosphere (and in
lines of phyletic descent). As Spetner points out, to have a net increase
in information, one needs to demonstrate that the processes one is relying
upon to generate this are capable of individually increasing information.
Going back to when there were no feathers or lungs, one could double and
triple all the chromosomes one likes, or merge two lots of information from
all the protozoa then existing, there still would be no increase in
information overall.

--------------- end of forwarded message ---------------