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Trees and Math

hlehman's picture

“Life on Earth has been generated over billions of years in a single branching tree- the Tree of Life- by one algorithmic process or another” (51). 

Over the past few weeks I have spent a lot of time in my other biology classes discussing evolution and phylogenetic trees/ how humans evolved.  Last week in one of my classes we used a computer program called Mesquite to generate different charts to show hominin origins based on a series of characters we identified in a group of 7 skulls.  The charts we produced were actually very similar to that on page 337, which traces primate’s origins.  I think it is really interesting to compare the trees we built to those we have been discussing in class and the Tree of Life/ algorithmic process described by Dennet because I’ve never thought of life in such mathematical terms before and now I’m starting to (again) think in a new direction.  Whenever I hear the term algorithm I revert back to my high school math classes and memorizing different formulas, but now thinking of it as a universal term and significant process to describe life actually makes sense. 

As we discussed in class on Thursday, evolution as an algorithmic process is about something simple giving rise to something more complex, a set of simple instructions that can be followed without ambiguity to yield a particular outcome.  And after thinking about life and evolution in those terms, using trees to explain our existence and evolution makes perfect sense.  Trees grow from seeds- small, simple bundles that give rise to complex, incredible organisms- exactly as the algorithm would predict.


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