Re: SCI:BIO: raw genome length not a good measure of organism complexity

Anders Sandberg (
Wed, 15 Jan 1997 11:54:34 +0100 (MET)

On Tue, 14 Jan 1997, Eliezer Yudkowsky wrote:

> > Considerably more data is needed to assemble a soul than the data in the
> > human genome. Remember that wolf boy in France?
> Um, I could be wrong, but I think that most of the data controlling how
> the human mind works is inside the genome... even if it needs external,
> environmental triggers.

Well, according to what I have seen in my neuroscience studies, the genome
essentially codes for the unfolding process of the brain: various
morphogens diffuse through the developing brain guiding various cell types
to their destination, changing one type into another, killing some cells
or opening or closing genetic switches (it reminds me of a big society of
finite state machines engaged in group behavior). This process is
influenced by the environment (think FAS babies), but mostly it just sets
the stage for the second level or brain development during childhood,
which is based on experiences and a more gradual darwinnowing of the

Note that you don't need many genes for morphogens in order to get a
tremendously complex structure. It should also be noted that no two
brains are alike, not even in identical twins (to the despair of the fans
of stereotactic surgery), which suggests that very minor variations can
influence the long-term development of the brain.

> You are correct in that even if we understand
> the genome, we might still need some understanding of external
> environment in order to build an AI from it... but I think that external
> understanding could be hacked up over a few hours. Night and day, motor
> feedback, sociovisual interaction... seems fairly easy, relative to
> figuring out how the genes start a cascade of neural evolution that ends
> up in a person.

Was it Marvin Minsky or another AI guru who said something like: "Computer
vision seems fairly easy, relative to figuring out general planning" and
set a graduate student to solve problem during the summer? :-)

Anders Sandberg Towards Ascension!
GCS/M/S/O d++ -p+ c++++ !l u+ e++ m++ s+/+ n--- h+/* f+ g+ w++ t+ r+ !y