Design and evolution

I last wrote about design here.

What is the essential element of a design? Dictionaries define design in terms of a plan but that concerns how a design is recorded or communicated rather than the design itself. I suggest that the essential element of a design is the necessity of a trade-off.

To define a trade-off first define incompatible qualities as qualities that contain contraries, for example, doing something accurately and speedily. An increase in accuracy causes a decrease in speed and an increase in speed causes a decrease in accuracy. Accuracy and speed are not contraries but accuracy contains slowness and speed contains inaccuracy, which makes accuracy and speed incompatible.

A trade-off is the situation calling for a selection of the degree of two incompatible or contrary qualities. A design is the selection of the degree or amount of two incompatible qualities or things. The design decision may be made by maximization of something desirable, such as profit, or minimization of something undesirable, such as cost. Hence optimization results in a design.

Evolutionary algorithms are solution-space trial and error search algorithms with stochastic optimization. They are based on concepts from evolutionary biology. Their result is an optimum solution within the given solution space. Because of the stochastic element of evolutionary algorithms, it may seem as if the computer made the optimization decision and so the solution was not designed.

But while a computer is part of implementing evolutionary algorithms, humans designed the computer hardware and software that enabled it to run the algorithm. The computer’s part may be called an indirect design because the algorithm selected the result. The development of the computer hardware and software may be called a direct design since a human selected the result.

Biologists theorize that one or more evolutionary algorithms designed each biological taxon, such as species. The best known evolutionary algorithm in biology is called natural selection. Biologists conclude that nature produced all taxa by itself, that is, that there was no biological designer. In other words, organisms are the product of indirect design only.

However, this ignores that every evolutionary algorithm needs to be designed and implemented in order to produce something. While biologists may choose to ignore the direct design aspect of evolutionary algorithms, that does not eliminate it. Even if they push direct design back to the dawn of time or of life itself, that does not eliminate design from organic life.

Once it is recognized that there is an evolutionary algorithm, the design of the algorithm is necessarily also there. It then becomes a matter of scientific theory design as to where the boundary is between the direct design of the algorithm and the indirect design of its implementation. Arbitrarily setting that boundary to the dawn of time or of life cannot be a scientific approach to determining its position.

Therefore, it is still necessary to determine the boundary between the evolutionary algorithms and their implementation in organic life. The evolutionary algorithms of nature are still algorithms, which have a design. This requires the higher-level determination as to what extent there is a direct design or an indirect design of biological algorithms, which is a matter of investigation, not arbitrary imposition.