Evolution and behaviour

A computer program that simulates coding and inheritance on the one hand, and neural function on the other, permits the emulation of simple animal-like organisms

Today I want to share two striking YouTube videos that I found recently. Maybe you’d like to watch them yourself.

Part of a DNA molecule (from Wikipedia)

Introduction – The animation shows the molecular structure of DNA, rotating so you can visualise it more easily. Watson and Crick famously published this structure in April 1953.

DNA contains the genetic information that specifies the nature of plants, animals and other life forms. Each species has it’s own form of this DNA ‘instruction book’. Amongst other things, a species’ DNA controls the basic structure of the brain just as it does for other body parts. But here’s an interesting fact: The coding and behaviour of DNA can be simulated by strings of characters stored in a computer.

Brains involve cells called neurons with connections between them, and neural networks running on a computer can behave in a similar way to a very simple brain. Building a computer program that simulates coding and inheritance on the one hand, and neural function on the other, permits the emulation of simple animal-like organisms, and there are applications out there that do just this.

First example – One such program is Minute Labs’ Evolution Simulator (check out their YouTube to see it in action).

Second example – Another program, and I want to focus mainly on this one, is from David Randall Miller. He wrote a particularly fascinating simulator, see his YouTube demo and explanation below for some quite deep insights. It’s a long video, but breaks into logical chunks for easier viewing; I suggest viewing the first section and continuing if it seems interesting.

It’s a really helpful approach for anyone wanting to better understand evolution. It assumes only fundamental levels of the topics, but will enhance your appreciation of maths and computing while also demonstrating the basics of genetics, inheritance, simple neural networks, and animal behaviour. That’s quite a lot of benefit from just one video!

Some questions to ask yourself…

  • What new understandings did you gain?
  • Did you disagree with anything?
    • If so, why?
  • What conclusions did you draw about the nature of living things?
  • Was anything surprising to you?
  • What questions do the videos cause you to ask?

Author: Chris Jefferies


4 thoughts on “Evolution and behaviour”

  1. the east side and west side, made me think of either pole away from the average. For when we balance the difficult and enjoyable we are somewhere in the middle. Healthiest, best chance of survival as video says. I am translating this intuitively into human life. how we live our lives. When something pushes us to an extreme, if we want to go, our best chance is to return to the middle, i.e. the half way between the ‘west’ and ‘east’ in this simulation. The balance.


  2. I posted a comment on the “I programmed some creatures and THEY EVOLVED” video, and David Randall Miller deleted it. So much for intellectual integrity.
    This is my comment that was deleted:
    This is purely a mathematical environment. It does not simulate the environment of a biological organism. There is no rain. There is no wind. There is no hot. There is no cold. There is no oxygen. There is no lack of oxygen. There are no bacteria. There are no viruses. A fox-like organism can’t evolve into a whale without these environmental factors being taken into consideration.


    1. Thanks for your comment, Michael. David Randall Miller’s software simulates the environment for the simulated organisms. That environment is simple, a grid of positions in a 2-D ‘world’, areas where reproduction is possible and areas where it is not, and other organisms that sometimes get in the way. You are right, no rain, wind, etc.

      The software demonstrates, very clearly, how the simplest replicators in the simplest environment can (and do) evolve. Adding all the complexity of the real world doesn’t change that fact. Evolution is a simple process in principle and lack of additional complexity is not evidence that it cannot happen. In fact, that’s the whole point. Demonstrating evolution in a simple system reveals the minimum requirements for it to happen.


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