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Manipulating A Target Host's Fitness Function

From: J. Maynard Gelinas <j.maynard.gelinas.nul>
Date: Wed, 7 Mar 2012 13:08:38 +0800
Archived: Wed, 07 Mar 2012 08:27:12 -0500
Subject: Manipulating A Target Host's Fitness Function

Speculative: On Indirectly Manipulating a Target Host's Fitness
Function In A Static Environment

This is a followup to two prior posts:

Sampling Earth's Biodiversity:


Biosphere Computational Modeling:


In both posts, I suggested that useful solutions to complex
morphological problems from the molecular to the macro scale
could be computationally modeled using Genetic Algorithms with
the Earth's biosphere as the simulation habitat. By manipulating
a target host's fitness function, a range of potential solutions
to varying morphological and functional problems could thus be
derived over time. This is then extrapolated to a speculative
'Extraterrestrial Intent' for repeated visitations observed and
recorded since antiquity. However, one issue not deeply explored
is just how a 'fitness function' might be manipulated to
generate a given selection pressure since the Earth's biosphere
is assumed to be static and immutable. This post will suggest a
potential method to resolve that deficit in the proposal.

For background, in implementing genetic algorithms, one doesn't
engineer a final solution. One instead selects an optimal
outcome for a given starting point, be it a software program or
a simulated biological organism. Mechanisms of control and
morphology are implemented in simulated 'genes', which then
iteratively derive solutions to a given selection pressure one
generation at a time. Those simulated hosts which don't meet the
selection criteria are then culled and another generation born.
Over time, generation by generation, the target 'evolves' closer
and closer to the final optimal outcome, often 'discovering' a
range of counter-intuitive solutions to the same problem. It's
essentially an iterative approximation by stochastic walk

However, human engineered simulated environments used in genetic
programming typically directly affect the environment to impact
a target host's fitness function. Hypothetical aliens using
Earth's biosphere would not have that option, as the system is
much too big to directly control. So what alternative process
might these hypothetical aliens use to set a target organism's
fitness function?

Richard Dawkins' _The Extended Phenotype,_ first published in
1982, may offer some insight. That said, however, I don't have
the text handy for citation as my books are currently being
shipped overseas. The best I can offer is this meager wikipedia
reference about the text:


Dawkins' work is associated with his insight and proposal that
selection occurs at the gene level rather than at the group
organism level. He referred to this idea as the 'Selfish Gene'
and wrote a well known book of the same title in 1976. That is,
the _individual gene_ is conserved, not the organism or group.
This became a central debate between evolutionary biologists
across the 1970s and 1980s, most famously culminating in a
series of debates between Stephen J. Gould and Richard Dawkins
prior to Gould's untimely death by cancer in 2002. That debate
is still ongoing today. Wikipedia has a good overview of
Dawkins' idea. Scientific American published a good debate
perspective from the Group Selection model as well.



Regardless of which side of the selection debate to which one
prefers to adhere, the central concept behind _The Extended
Phenotype_ may still be relevant to this thought experiment. And
that is, that individual gene selection shifts in the
environment of one organism may be manipulated by the web of
interacting organisms within its environment. Any one organism
faces a twofold environment, one that is generally fixed or at
least changes very slowly - such as ambient oxygen content,
temperature range, water availability, etc. The second
environmental challenge is thus made of the range and density of
prey, competing and parasitic organisms the initial organism
faces in its daily environment. That is not fixed, it may change
rapidly from generation to generation (or even within a
generation), thus shifting the environmental landscape on short
notice. Prey, competing and parasitic organisms thus represent a
web of complex feedback loop interactions, similar to Norbert
Weiner's perspective on cybernetics, which over time reach a
certain equilibrium only when the combination of climatological
and organism level interactions reach a steady-state in their
collective environment.

Thus, from the opposite perspective of the target organism, that
is from the perspective of its prey, competitors, and parasites
in an open environment, Dawkins' idea may also represent a means
to intentionally shift phenotypic expression expression of a
target organism by genetically modifying prey, competitors, and
parasites to force second order changes in the target's
environment. This would then represent a shift in selection
pressure, thus demanding a new fitness function for the target
organism. From this perspective, hypothetical aliens might
intervene not at the climatological level - which would be very
energy intensive and difficult to achieve - but instead by
modifying the ecological web around that organism toward a
directed computational goal.

Implications (assuming the ideas in these posts hold merit):

- By humanity conducting a bio-sampling operation of our own, it
may well be possible to:

a) Discern whether genetic level changes of target organisms and
their secondary interactors are - in fact - being genetically
modified with intent or are simply shifting their genes due to
naturally changing environmental conditions. Thus, it may fit
within the framework of a falsifiable hypothesis.

b)  Assuming the potential hypothesis is valid, it may then be
possible to discern the final output goals - or at least
intermediary steps - of whomever may be implementing these
organism level shifts. There are two approaches based on
available observation:

1) We already know the target organism. For example, if it is
assumed that cows are a target due to repeated observation of
mutilation cases, it may be possible to sample the cow's food,
its prey, and its parasites, to then discern over time what
ultimate phenotypic shift is desired by those conducting the

2) We desire a search for new target organisms. By conducting
random samples of organisms throughout the environment, upon
discovering those which have been intentionally modified, it may
be possible to backtrack the ecological web to thus discern new
targets. From there one could use option 1) to then discern
those goals as well.

c) With the knowledge derived from a) and b), it may be possible
to perform a counter-operation to thus interfere with the
process and successful achievement of those goals by whomever
may be conducting such a program.


J. Maynard Gelinas

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