Posted: Jun 23, 2014 1:59 pm
by Animavore


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Diagram in question. It's a theoretical evolutionary model which the computer came across all by itself just by giving it a starting point and entering simple parameters for 'improvement'.

From the text on that page.

However we choose to run our model, whether in ‘natural-selection mode’ or in ‘systematic exploration of the mountain mode’, we have to decide upon some rules of embryology: that is, some rules governing how genes control the development of bodies. What aspects of shape do the mutations actually operate upon? And how big, or how small, are the mutations themselves? In the case of NetSpinner, the mutations act upon known aspects of the behaviour of spiders. In the case of biomorphs, mutations act upon the lengths and angles of branches in growing trees. In the case of eyes, Nilsson and Pelger began {162} by acknowledging that there are three main types of tissue in a typical ‘camera’ eye. There is an outer casing to the camera, usually opaque to light. There is a layer of light-sensitive ‘photocells’. And there is some kind of transparent material, which may serve as a protective window or which may fill the cavity inside the cup — if, indeed, there is a cup, for we are not taking anything for granted in our simulation. Nilsson and Pelger's starting point — the foot of the mountain — is a flat layer of photocells (grey in Figure 5.14), sitting on a flat backing screen (black) and topped by a flat layer of transparent tissue (off-white). They assumed that mutation works by causing a small percentage change in the size of something, for example a small percentage decrease in the thickness of the transparent layer, or a small percentage increase in the refractive index of a local region of the transparent layer. Their question really is, where can you get to on the mountain if you start from a given base camp and go steadily upwards? Going upwards means mutating, one small step at a time, and only accepting mutations that improve optical performance.

So, where do we get to? Pleasingly, through a smooth upward pathway, starting from no proper eye at all, we reach a familiar fish eye, complete with lens. The lens is not uniform like an ordinary man-made lens. It is a graded index lens such as we met in Figure 5.13b. Its continuously varying refractive index is represented in the diagram by varying shades of grey. The lens has ‘condensed’ out of the vitreous mass by gradual, point by point changes in the refractive index. There is no sleight of hand here. Nilsson and Pelger didn't pre-pro-gram their simulated vitreous mass with a primordial lens just waiting to burst forth. They simply allowed the refractive index of each small bit of transparent material to vary under genetic control. Every smidgen of transparent material was free to vary its refractive index in any direction at random. An infinite number of patterns of varying refractive index could have emerged within the vitreous mass. What made the lens come out lens-shaped’ was unbroken upward mobility, the equivalent of selectively breeding from the best seeing eye in each generation.