Talk:Optimality In Biology

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  • Austin Che 11:21, 10 September 2007 (EDT): Optimality is interesting but what would be even more interesting to me are examples of non-optimality (or at least apparent non-optimality). In a sense, examples of "optimal" things in the evolutionary sense aren't too unusual as that's how we specify evolution/selection. So the more interesting puzzles are why some things aren't optimal as these are what really help us understand evolution. For example there are the standard examples from sexual selection. There was an experiment looking at the lengths of the tail in the long-tailed widow bird. They found that artificially increasing their tail lengths would get them more mates, so the optimal length by sexual selection was a longer tail, but the utilitarian optimal was shorter than their existing length (energy cost, etc). So the tail length in this case is a compromise between two competing effects and is neither optimal for getting mates nor optimal in a utilitarian sense. There are many other such examples which on the face of it look to be evolutionarily non-optimal (but perhaps can be explained in some other way). Some other examples I can think of: why do organisms waste so much time sleeping? why do we die (bacteria don't so it isn't a physical limitation on the cellular level)? why do we put resources into pets? what's the basis of altruism? I don't know of molecular examples of non-optimality but I think these would be very interesting to look at.
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