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Jenn Dodwell's picture

Errors in evolution?

I keep thinking about the meaning of the word error, and if it can be applied to evolution....According to the dictionary, error is defined as "a deviation from accuracy or correctness; a mistake, as in action or speech: His speech contained several factual errors." (www.dictionary.com).

In evolution, what do we consider to be "accuracy" or "correctness?" I think  that for something to be accurate, there has to be some kind of ultimate standard, or ultimate destination.  For example, if someone said the answer to the problem two plus four equals seven, that would be an inaccurate answer, because this problem has one goal-- to produce the number seven.  Therefore, the criteria for judging accuracy is very simple; either the person gets the correct answer, or he/she does not.

However, in evolution, what is that ultimate destination?  Last week, we were talking about how the process of evolution is headed in a completely random direction.  What will be the state of life on earth hundreds of years from now?  We have no idea, because nature does not seem to have a fixed agenda.

Therefore, when we say that something is a biological error, what exactly do we mean?  What is correct, and what is incorrect? Is a gene mutation considered an error because it deviated from the majority of genes? If suddenly there were an increased frequency of that particular gene muation (which I believe can happen due to certain environmental conditions....maybe not...I'm really not sure...does anyone know?), would it still be considered an error? 

"Error" seems like a nonnarrative word, that when applied to the narrative process of evolution is frustrating, because it limits our understanding of this incredibly complex process to a simple binary: either a change is right, or it is wrong.  Besides, even if nature did have an ultimate destination, and there were some genetic deviations (errors) from this destination, I don't feel that we as humans would have the wisdom (or the lifespan) to comprehend this destination, let alone to be the judges of whether each genetic change (or some other kind of change) we saw was correct or incorrect.

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