Darwin would have never been a Neo-Darwinian | Denis Noble interview

Now this was a fun, even an exciting interview, since this guy puts a little backbone into the very notions I’m trying to convey. It’s worth a listen.

Why Dawkins is wrong - Dennis Noble
Jun 3, 2023 The Institute of Art and Ideas

In this interview, esteemed biologist Denis Noble explains why our approach to biology is the wrong way around. We thought that the sequencing of genetic information would unlock vast developments in medical cures for a whole host of illnesses. However, sequencing the genome alone hasn’t revolutionised medicine.
Denis Noble argues that we have our treatments the wrong way around. Instead, we need to recognise that genes are not on/off switches, and move beyond dualism in Biology.
Watch world-famous scientist Richard Dawkins go head-to-head with celebrated biologist Denis Noble as they debate the role of genes over the eons at https://iai.tv/video/the-gene-machine…

00:00 Introduction
00:26 Why does the idea of genetic determinism have such a lasting appeal?
06:13 What do you see as the fault of this gene-centric Neo-Darwinian picture?
11:22 How did Darwin’s view get distorted by Neo-Darwinism?
14:18 What is the alternative to genetic determinism?

(the genes = musical notes analogy, very good)
16:40 Decartes’ mistake
17:55 Can determinism come from the environment?

'Harnessing chance. (19:07) … creativity

The process is within ourselves.

21:30 Being made out of water vs. silicon . . . harnessing change

22:37 What do you make of CRISPR and human enhancement?
24:53 What is the biggest question in molecular biology at the moment? Oxford Professor and one of the pioneers of Systems Biology, Noble developed the first viable mathematical model of the working heart in 1960.

25:05 Why Dawkins is wrong | Denis Noble interview - YouTube

Denis Noble
“… I think we have to get back I’m sorry to say this because I am a physiologist we need to get back to a physiological interpretation now I wrote an article just two years ago together with a colleague and I called it could physiology rescue genomics …”

Denis Noble CBE FRS FMedSci MAE[3] (born 16 November 1936) is a British physiologist and biologistwho held the Burdon Sanderson Chair of Cardiovascular Physiology at the University of Oxford from 1984 to 2004 and was appointed Professor Emeritus and co-Director of Computational Physiology. He is one of the pioneers of systems biology and developed the first viable mathematical model of the working heart in 1960.

Here’s deeper dive into Denis Noble’s perspective.
He seemed educational and he makes a lot of sense to me.
Whereas Dawkins seemed a tad defensive, a guy defending his legacy.

Dawkins re-examined: Dawkins’ legacy

1st December 2022 Video courtesy of @TheInstituteOfArtAndIdeas Dawkins’ Selfish Gene has been hugely influential, both within evolutionary biology and in the wider public sphere. It’s a beautifully simple story: genes and not organisms drive evolutionary change.

But critics argue the story is simplistic. The effect of a gene is not always the same and as is dependent on its host and the cell environment. DNA does not come neatly divided into individual genes. And in 2010 the renowned biologist EO Wilson and others revived the case for group selection. >Some are now arguing that the Selfish Gene paradigm is holding back medical research. :thinking: Is it time to move on and acknowledge that Dawkins’ theory is not the whole story? Yah think?
{There’s been decades worth of increasingly insightful lessons, Selfish Gene’s was a pioneering effort, it did the best it could with the information at hand, back then. }

Might his theory be making a fundamental mistake in reducing humans to machines? Or does the Selfish Gene remain a remarkably powerful and accurate account of who we are? The Panel World-famous scientist Richard Dawkins goes head-to-head with celebrated biologist Denis Noble as they lock horns over the role of genes over the eons.

Repeatedly Dawkins discusses mechanism of genetic evolution and such, but he doesn’t acknowledge the dynamic interactions at work between creature awareness and environment. One effecting the other, as the frames of our lives flash one into the next, leading to survival and offspring, or to death and passing into historic oblivion.

The creature body struggling to prosper in an unforgiving, challenging, changing reality.

A guy I’ve never heard of is challenging 150 years of science, hmm. Sounded like a straw man construction from the notes, so I searched who he is before watching the video. Currently my money is “guy from Quora”, Derek Johnson, who comments on a different video from Denis,

The crux of his argument is that there are two relatively recent discoveries in biology that are giving him fuel to make a fuss about the Modern Synthesis. First, that mutations aren’t random, and second, that there are some acquired traits that are inherited. He discovered neither of these things. In poking around on Google Scholar, I can only conclude that he hasn’t published research papers on either of these topics. Instead, he’s taking a couple of things that evolutionary biologists are already aware of, and interpreting them to be far more disruptive to science than they actually are.

He suggests that Neo-Darwinism relies on there being no such thing as inheritance of acquired characteristics. I can already see where he’s going with this. He’s going to play the epigenetics card. That’s stupid. Epigenetics is interesting. It’s a cool little trick for inheritance of some very minor behavioral traits. But to suggest it overthrows, or even remotely challenges, evolution by natural selection in any way is an outright lie.

In his 5 minute intro, he’s constructing a straw man of an argument that he can knock down. He then spends the rest of the video providing support that everyone already knows, but suggesting that this is some big deal. This isn’t science. It’s debate and semantics disguised as science. This is intellectual dishonesty. This is grandstanding. It isn’t that what he’s saying about modern science isn’t correct; it’s that he’s claiming that some new discoveries about the process of mutation and epigenetics are a much bigger deal than they actually are. Both non-random mutation and epigenetics can be easily and comfortably integrated into evolutionary theory.

I don’t think that’s was Noble was suggesting.

Hmmm, you don’t see a bit of grandstanding in that paragraph itself?
Which 5 minute intro? To which video?

I think I’d be more impressed with confronting Noble’s actually points of discussion - rather than Derek Johnson’s shotgun assault.

My comment is about why I’m not bothering to give this any bandwidth. The title alone tells me he’s not doing science.

You’ve not heard of Denis Noble? I’ve not read anything by him, but I’ve heard of him. Can’t say I think much of what he has to say, but then again, I’ve never exactly dove deep into his works, like I have Dawkins. I’ve only heard/read a little of what he has to say and it’s not triggered my interest.

Forty years of The Selfish Gene are not enough - PMC
Most importantly, Dawkins demonstrated with the utmost lucidity that we had biology upside down: evolution — and hence biology — is not concerned with the organism, but with the genes that survive unscathed through the eons by jumping from body to body.

In the few talks I’ve listened to Dawkins doesn’t acknowledge the role of changing environments,
that right there, tells me the man for all his brains is missing a good deal about what real life gushy organism, creatures are doing as time marches on with the pageant of Earth’s biosphere and evolution does its thing.

Denis Noble - RationalWiki
Noble has written that there is a current revolution in evolutionary biology, that the central assumptions of neo-Darwinism have been disproven. He is a critic of the gene-centered view of evolution and calls for an extended evolutionary synthesis.

In his book The Music of Life (2006) he examined some of the basic aspects of systems biology, and is critical of the ideas of genetic determinism and genetic reductionism. He has written that there are many examples of feedback loops and “downward causation” in biology, and that it is not reasonable to privilege one level of understanding over all others. He also explains that genes in fact work in groups and systems, so that the genome is more like a set of organ pipes than a “blueprint for life.”

He has openly criticized the selfish gene idea of Richard Dawkins as non-testable.[2] According to Noble, the idea that genes are selfish is completely unnecessary to an understanding of how they work.[3]

In 2013 Noble at a major international Congress held in Suzhou China lectured his views on evolution.[4] In his recent paper Physiology is rocking the foundations of evolutionary biology (2013) Noble has written that the central assumptions of neo-Darwinism have been disproven as there is evidence that acquired characteristics can be inherited, DNA is not the sole transmitter of inheritance, genetic change is far from random and often not gradual and the central dogma of molecular biology has been broken, genomes are not isolated from organism or the environment.[5]

Noble has been quote mined by intelligent design proponents, but Noble soundly rejects intelligent design.[6] Despite his criticism of neo-Darwinism, Noble is still a Darwinist as he accepts natural selection. He is not anti-evolution, he is only debating the mechanisms of evolution. Similar to Stephen Jay Gould, he has called for an extended evolutionary synthesis.

Noble believes selection is multilevel. According to his website, his view of evolutionary theory is more in keeping with Darwin’s own ideas than the neo-Darwinist view. His views on evolution are similar to Eugene Koonin.

I don’t pretend to know anything about Denis Noble beyond what I’ve gathered these past couple days. I don’t think he’s a perfect seer, but then neither is Dawkins, yet I also see where he makes some excellent points that dismissiveness won’t erase.
As for the past 150 years of science, that’s not quite so glorious, plenty of agenda driven, ego driven bias and hubris leading to plenty of documented misadventures. Many have questioned the proud edifice of Science, for good cause, and wound up vindicated, by time and further evidence & facts & learning.

This is what keeps your stuff from gaining an audience. This is a convoluted statement that on the surface is saying Dawkins is missing something about the very thing which he claims to have expertise.

But, scratch the surface, and underneath, between the lines, is, … nothing. Dawkins is a biologist. To say that he “doesn’t acknowledge” the role of the environment is to say that he doesn’t know what evolution is. Natural selection is in the definition of evolution. You can’t have evolution without environmental pressures. Dawkins has pointed this out when someone challenges him with the odds of DNA self-assembling. But otherwise, if he isn’t responding to someone who has no clue, there is no reason for him to mention it.

His specialty is biology, what happens to life after it is already going, replicating, and responding to the environment. A pilot needs to know how read the clouds and understand “winds aloft”, but they don’t need to know every detail about climate change. A store owner needs to understand a balance sheet and compound interest, but they don’t need to mention the subtle forces of economic theories to run their business.

Your statement is not about Dawkins, it’s just how science works. Of course Dawkins is aware of Earth’s biosphere, that’s what makes him a great science communicator. Give it a rest dude. You’ll thank me for the time it frees up.

Here’s a page from his book, where he gets people interested in the wonders of reality. My cat photobombed it. Why is he talking about rainbows? What do rainbows have to do with evolution, or the pageant of the biosphere, it’s just light, light has been there since the beginning. Why isn’t he talking about changing environments? Huh?

hey I’m simply responding to his response to that audience.

to the information he is conveying - not to all the information he has crammed in his head or buried in volumes, that starts aging as most all of science does.

And I’m past feeling bad about it

I disagree, my statement is about how the science is being conveyed to the public!
Besides he doubles down on it in his dismissal of Noble.

calm down
I’ll give it to Noble for a moment:

Firstly, much of Noble’s more hostile opposition has come from evolutionary biologists in the United States, which is a pattern he does not see as trivial. ‘There is a completely different atmosphere in the whole debate in the US, and the reason is simple,’ he tells me. ‘There is an extraordinary contrast between the public acceptance of evolutionary biology in the US and in Europe. They cope with 40% of the population seriously believing evolution never happened.’

Essentially, there is always concern among the scientific community in religious countries like the US that any cracks in the edifice of evolutionary biology will quickly be filled with creationist ideas. This, according to Noble, has led to the reinforcement of certain dogmas and assumptions for which there is insufficient evidence. Having witnessed first-hand the misrepresentation of his ideas by religious groups, Noble is clearly sympathetic to the situation in the US.

But I sensed in him great despair at how science has become a set of facts, and no longer the process by which we unravel them. ‘Let’s find a way of creating a kind of demilitarised zone for this peculiarly North American conflict between religion and evolutionary biology,’ he implores. …

As our conversation goes on, a pattern becomes clear. What Noble is most against is certainty, whether it is inflexible boundaries between biological systems, fundamental frames of reference in evolution, or claims to absolute truth.

Like many scientists before him, he has arrived at the paradoxical position that all we can certainly know is that we know nothing for certain. In the final chapter of Dance to the Tune of Life, he puts forward his theory of epistemological relativity, which is the (somewhat self-refuting) idea that ‘things can only be understood in a relative sense: relative to the question we ask; relative to the scale to which we asked the question; relative to our present knowledge of a universe of which we will always have questions remaining.’

Naturally, as a relativist, Noble holds a healthy scepticism about the power of language, which is itself a metaphor for the world it describes, to convey ultimate truths. ‘All languages are prisons of culture but liberators of communication. We need languages to communicate, but our languages in turn cloud what we understand,’ he says.

There is a telling Zen saying on this subject that words are like fingers which point to the moon. Without the pointing finger, you would not notice the moon, but the pointing finger isn’t what matters most. All of our understanding, scientific understanding included, is mediated by metaphors – they are fingers that point us in the direction of something beyond. But metaphors can, by their very nature, only ever tell part of the story.

In Noble’s words, ‘the harm is done when we take the metaphors too literally, extend them beyond their range of application’. In this sense, he has come to the conclusion that if we push questions about life and the universe far enough, words will eventually fail us.

Moreover, humans are an example of a natural self-assembly of 2 different chromosomes , such as is evident in the human largest chromosome # 2, the fusion of 2 chromosomes that seems to be related to the beneficial mutation that produced a hybrid ape with a larger brain growth potential.
This is supported by the fact that only human fossils reveal the unique chromosomal count that sets humans apart from all other old and modern day hominids.

Human Chromosome 2 is a fusion of two ancestral chromosomes
Alec MacAndrew

All great apes apart from man have 24 pairs of chromosomes. There is therefore a hypothesis that the common ancestor of all great apes had 24 pairs of chromosomes and that the fusion of two of the ancestor’s chromosomes created chromosome 2 in humans. The evidence for this hypothesis is very strong.
Chromosome fusion

Only humans possess a chromosome that is the fusion of two prior separate chromosomes. And humans are hominids like all other apes. The single major mutation that seemed to have spawned mankind, by way of fusion of two genes (chromosomes).
To me, that is such a relational co-incidence that this must be given serious consideration in the determination of fossil ancestry.

That’s what I’m saying. You decide what he should say at this point and claim his answer has some implications for all science communication. It doesn’t

I’m not sure where this went so south, I mean who made Dawkins a demigod beyond reproach? His book is a classic and remains relevant to scholars, but from what other “experts” have written over the years, it does have it’s blind spots, over simplifications and misinterpretations.* Perhaps not enough to discredit the 1976 classic book as a whole, genes being genes, but enough to highlight and want to discuss.

My comment was about what he said in that specific talk that was shared with me.

The talk I believe boiled down to the Lamarkian challenge. To demonize, or not?

Seems to me once the political misuse, exaggerations, misrepresentations and egos get shoved to the side, at the core of Lamarkianism is the supposition that environment and activity can find its way into a creatures germ line then passed on to future generations.

It’s about what get’s expressed, or not. True, now recall those gene-expressions are there for a purpose, to help the creature survive, thrive and procreate. Beyond the genes in your body, there’s the circumstance that body must negotiate, how appropriate is the gene’s bodily expression to the body’s current situation? Which expressions will survive better? Environment matters, not just on the larger gross scale, but within the minuscule as well.

You’ll tell me this is so well known, there’s no need to mention it.

No need to mention it? Why not? Because it’s irrelevant?

That’s what you are telling me.

I beg to different, I think it’s extremely important to talk about and become familiar with. Not so much for scientists, but at the down home people in society level. Because for some it offers a remedy for a certain breed of existential angst and nihilistic self-loathing.
There’s no reason for so many lost people out there. Something as simple as seeing oneself as an element in the pageant of evolution can provide that tethering to a center, and a sense of belonging that humans need. An appreciation for the mind exploding reality of our Earth and what she’s been through these billions of years. That legacy flows through our blood can mean something powerful to a certain type of curious rational human being.

I believe better stressing this more realistic bottom up evolutionary, biological foundation and all those feedback loops with the Earth matters.
I believe better understanding the source of our self, the “me, myself, and I,” our consciousness (home to all our thoughts - our mind, our soul) within the panorama of our own evolving body/brain, is about the most constructive thing I can possibly hope to share with another person.

  • I’m in no position to debate for or against Dawkins, still I need to point out that very learned people also take issue with details of Dawkins claims:

“ … It is, however, a story that has been shown in recent decades to be erroneous at each level of its narration. Dawkins’s idea of the “selfish gene,” while still holding currency in the popular imagination, has been extensively discredited as a simplistic interpretation of evolution. In its place, biologists have developed a far more sophisticated view of evolution as a series of complex, interlocking systems, where the gene, organism, community, species, and environment all interact with each other intricately over different time frames. …”

Jeremy Lent - August 8, 2017

Note: The literature discrediting the “selfish gene” approach to evolution is extensive. The following is a sampling of some of the clearest expositions from recognized leaders in the field of evolutionary biology: Gould, S. J. (1982). “Darwinism and the Expansion of Evolutionary Theory.” Science, 216(4544:April 23), 380-387; Depew, D. J., & Weber, B. H. (1996). Darwinism Evolving: Systems Dynamics and the Genealogy of Natural Selection. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press; Wilson, D. S., & Wilson, E. O. (2007). “Rethinking the Theoretical Foundation of Sociobiology.” The Quarterly Review of Biology, 82(4: December 2007), 327-348; Goodwin, B. (2001). How the Leopard changed Its Spots: The Evolution of Complexity. Princeton: Princeton University Press; Jablonka, E., & Lamb, M. J. (2007). “Precis of Evolution in Four Dimensions.” Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 30(4), 353-392. Winther, R. G. (2008). “Systemic Darwinism”. PNAS, 105(33: August 19, 2008), 11833-11838; Pigliucci, M. (2007). “Do We Need an Extended Evolutionary Synthesis?” Evolution, 61(12: December 2007), 2743-2749.

That’s not what I’m telling you. What I’m telling you is that you keep missing what I’m telling you, then write more, and have to correct more, and lose the previous thread, and never get what I said.

It’s called “taking past each other”, like two radios facing each other. No reception.

Of course, it’s not that simple at all. It takes a lot of effort and homework, consuming and absorbing decades worth of information.

I’m suddenly seeing a glass of water adding sugar until solution is saturated, then the string, starter crystals, then the growing crystals forming into massive networks of hard rock.

Not a bad metaphor.

What you keep telling me is that, everyone already knows that, shut up already it’s boring and repetitive.

When I ask for clarification you get indignant.

I did that experiment in 6th grade.

Oh gosh and you wonder why I get frustrated.

It’s not about the experiment, it’s about the metaphor and the concept of emergence.

Doing the homework then one day a perviously empty sentence, blossoms into meaning.

Duh. It’s called casual conversation.

This is true, but I think he was better than Denis Noble. However, Evolution wasn’t his field of scientific expertise. I was a biologist, but fancied himself an Evolutionary Biologist.

Now I realize part of evolution deals with biology, but there’s more to evolution than just biology. That said, biology gave him a leg up over Denis Noble. My mistake, Noble was a physiologist and biologist. Maybe he did have a leg up on Dawkins. I guess I need to learn more about Noble before I say more.

So, if I understand you, you’re saying I’m boring and repetitious when I keep telling you that you are boring and repetitious?

I’d like you to define what an internet troll is, then apply that or yourself and see how it comes out. It’s called the “outsider’s test”, I point it out to people a lot, people who refuse to reflect on their own statements. If you think you’ll pass, then you shouldn’t have a problem doing it. If you want to play some sort of “well, you do it first, game”, I’ll play along, but I won’t let you off the hook.