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Darwin by Peter Greenaway (1993) – Although British director Peter Greenaway is best known for feature films like The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, Prospero’s Books, and The Pillow Book, he has also completed several highly respected projects for television, including this 53-minute exploration (now free) of the life and work of Charles Darwin. Darwin is structured around 18 separate tableaux, each focusing on another chapter in the naturalist’s life, and each consisting of just one long uninterrupted shot. Other than the narrator’s voice-over, there is no dialogue.


It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change“. Charles Darwin (On the Origin of Species, Nov. 1859)

During the Victorian era where high prudery and morality were constant, it would be hard to imagine seeing Charles Darwin wearing a Scottish-kilt. In fact, men’s formal clothing was less colourful than it was in the previous century, while women’s tight-fitting jersey dresses of the 1880s covered the body, leaving little to the imagination (source). There is however, one beautiful – as in strict sense of delighting the senses for exciting intellectual or emotional admiration – reason, I think he should have done it (!), regardless the  obvious bearing consequences of a severe Victorian society. Surprisingly, some how, that reason is linked to cheetahs chasing gazelles, among many other things…

As the image of Charles Darwin wearing a kilt, you will probably find these awkward too, but when a cheetah chases a gazelle, banded tartan Scottish-kilt woven textile like patterns soon start to pop-up everywhere. Not at the ground terrain level, of course. Instead, they appear as a phenotype-like map between your present and the past. You may think that this banded tartans will have no significance for your life, but do mind this: crying babies do it all the time with their mommy’s and fathers, companies do it with other companies in their regular business, people commuting in large cities do it over large highways, human language, literature and culture does it, friends do it, PC virus and anti-virus software do it, birds singing do it also, … and even full countries at war do it.

One extreme example is the Cold War, where for the first time on our Human history, co-evolutionary arms-race raised to unprecedented levels. Co-Evolution is indeed the right common key-word for all these phenomena, while large white banded strips punctuated by tiny black ones (bottom-left woven kilt above), would be the perfect correspondent tartan pattern for the case of the Cold War example mentioned. But among these, there is of course, much more Scottish-kilt like patterns we could find. Ideas, like over this TV ad above, co-evolve too. Here, the marketeer decided to co-evolve with a previous popular famous meme image: Sharon Stone crossing his legs at the 1992 ‘Basic Instinctmovie. In fact, there is an authentic plethora of different possible behavioural patterns. Like a fingerprint (associated with different Gaelic clans), each of these patterns correspond to a lineage of current versus ancestral strategies, trying to solve a specific problem, or achieving one precise goal. But as the strategic landscape is dynamically changing all the time, a good question is, how can we visualize it. And, above all, what vital information and knowledge could we retrieve from this evolutionary Scottish-kilts maps.

Fig. – The frontispiece drawing to the English edition of Ernst Haeckel‘s Evolution of Man (trans. 1903) presents a skull labelled “Australian Negro” as an intervening evolutionary stage between the “Mediterranean” skull and those of the lower primates (from the 1891 ed. of the Anthropogenie).

In nature, organisms and species coexist in an ecosystem, where each species has its own place or niche in the system. The environment contains a limited number and amount of resources, and the various species must compete for access to those resources, where successive adaptations in one group put pressure on another group to catch up (e.g., the coupled phenomena of speed in the cheetah and evasive agility in the gazelle). Through these interactions, species grow and change, each influencing the others evolutionary development [7]. This process of bi-adaptive relationship (in some cases can also assume a form of cooperation and mutualism) or reciprocal adaptation is know as Co-evolution, i.e. the evolution of two or more competing populations with coupled fitness.

The phenomena has several interesting features that may potentially enhance the adaptive power of artificial evolution [7], or  other types of bio-inspired learning systems. In particular, competing populations may reciprocally drive one another to increasing levels of complexity by producing an evolutionary “arms race”, where each group may become bigger, faster, more lethal, more intelligent, etc. Co-Evolution can then happen either between a learner (e.g., single population) and its environment (i.e. based on competitions among individuals in the population) or between learning species (two populations evolving), where the fitness of individuals is based on their behaviour in the context of the individuals of the other population [7]. This latter type of co-evolutionary search is often described as “host-parasite”, or “predator-prey” co-evolution. A good example and application of co-evolutionary learning include the pioneering work by Hillis in 1990 [1] on sorting networks.

It can occur at multiple levels of biology: it can be as microscopic as correlated mutations between amino acids in a protein, or as macroscopic as co-varying traits between different species in an environment. Being biological Co-Evolution, in a broad sense, “the change of a biological object triggered by the change of a related object” [2], his visualization however, could be profoundly hard. In fact, attempting to define and monitor “progress” in the context of Co-Evolutionary systems can be a somewhat nightmarish experience , as stated in [4]. It’s exactly here where Scottish-kilts come into play.

In 1995 [3], two researchers had a simple, yet powerful idea. In order to monitor the dynamics of artificial competitive co-evolutionary systems between two populations, Dave Cliff and Geoffrey Miller [3,4,5] proposed evaluating the performance of an individual from the current population in a series of trials against opponents from all previous generations. while visualizing the results as 2D grids of shaded cells or pixels: qualitative patterns in the shading can thus indicate different classes of co-evolutionary dynamic. Since their technique involves pitting a Current Individual (CI) against Ancestral Opponents (AO), they referred to the visualizations as CIAO plots (fig. above [3]).

Important Co-Evolutionary dynamics such as limited evolutionary memory, “Red Queen” effects or intransitive dominance cycling, will then be revealed like a fingerprint as certain qualitative patterns. Dominance cycling, for instance, it’s a major factor on Co-Evolution, wish could appear or not, during the entire co-evolutionary process. Imagine, for instance, 3 individuals (A,B,C) or strategies. Like over the well known “Rock, Paper, Scissors” game, strategy B could beat strategy A, strategy C could beat B, and strategy A could beat C, over and over in an eternal cycling, where only “arms race” specialized learning will emerge, at the cost of a limited learning generalization against a possible fourth individual-strategy D. If you play poker, you certainly know what I am talking about, since 2 poker players are constantly trying to broke this behavioural cycle, or entering it, depending on their so-far success.

Above (left and right figures – [3]), two idealised typical CIAO plot patterns can be observed, where darker shading denotes higher scores. On the left figure, however, co-evolutionary intransitive dominance cycling is a constant, where current elites (population A elites) score highly against population B opponents from 3, 8 and 13 generations ago, but not so well against generations in between. On the other hand (right figure), the behavioural pattern is completely different: over here we do observe limited evolutionary memory, where the current elites do well against opponents from 3,4 and 5 generations ago, but much less well against more distant ancestral opponents.

For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.” ~ Sun Tzu

Of course, in increasingly complex real-world situations Scottish-kilt like CIAO plots are much noisy than this (fig. above -[7]) where banded tartans could be less prominent, while the same could happen in irregular dominance cycling as elegantly showed by Cartlidge and Bullock in 2004 [6]. Above, some of my own experiences can be observed (submitted work). Over here I decided to co-evolve a AI agent strategy to play against a pool of 15 different strategies (6 of those confronts are presented above), and as a result, 6 different behavioural patterns emerged between them. All in all, the full spectrum of co-evolving dynamics could be observed, from the “Red Queen” effect, till alternate dominant cycles, and limited or long evolutionary memory. Even if some dynamics seem counter-productive in one-by-one confronts, in fact, all of these dynamics are useful in some way, as when you play Poker or the “Rock, Paper, Scissors” game. A typical confront between game memory (exploitation) and the ability to generalize (exploration). Where against precise opponents limited evolutionary memory was found, the same effect produced dominant cycles or long evolutionary memory against other strategies. The idea of course, is not to co-evolve a super-strategy to win all one-by-one battles (something that would be rather impossible; e.g. No free Lunch Theorem) but instead to win the whole round-robin tournament, by being highly adaptive and/or exaptive.

So next time you see someone wearing a banded tartan Scottish-kilt do remind yourself that, while getting trapped in traffic, that precise pattern could be the result of your long year co-evolved strategies to find the quickest way home, while confronting other commuters doing the same. And that, somewhere, somehow, Charles Darwin is envying your observations…


[1] W. Daniel Hillis (1990), “Co-Evolving Parasites improve Simulated Evolution as an Optimization Procedure”, Physica D, Vol. 42, pp. 228-234 (later in, C. Langton et al. (Eds.) (1992), Procs. Artificial Life II, Addison-Welsey, pp. 313-324).

[2] Yip et al.; Patel, P; Kim, PM; Engelman, DM; McDermott, D; Gerstein, M (2008). “An integrated system for studying residue Coevolution in Proteins“. Bioinformatics 24 (2): 290-292. doi:10.1093/bioinformatics/btm584. PMID 18056067.

[3] Dave Cliff, Geoffrey F. Miller, (1995), “Tracking the Red Queen: Methods for measuring co-evolutionary progress in open-ended simulations“. In F. Moran, A. Moreno, J. J. Merelo, & P. Cachon (Eds.), Advances in artificial life: Proceedings of the Third European Conference on Artificial Life (pp. 200-218). Berlin: Springer-Verlag.

[4] Dave Cliff, Geoffrey F. Miller, (2006), “Visualizing Co-Evolution with CIAO plots“, Artificial Life, 12(2), 199-202

[5] Dave Cliff, Geoffrey F. Miller (1996). “Co-evolution of pursuit and evasion II: Simulation methods and results“. In P. Maes, M. J. Mataric, J.-A. Meyer, J. Pollack, & S. W. Wilson (Eds.), From Animals to Animats 4: Proceedings of the Fourth International Conference on Simulation of Adaptive Behavior (pp. 506-515). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

[6] Cartlidge, J. and Bullock S., (2004), “Unpicking Tartan CIAO plots: Understanding irregular Co-Evolutionary Cycling“, Adaptive Behavior Journal, 12: 69-92, 2004.

[7] Ramos, Vitorino, (2007), “Co-Cognition, Neural Ensembles and Self-Organization“, extended abstract for a seminar talk at ISR – Institute for Systems and Robotics, Technical Univ. of Lisbon (IST), Lisbon, PORTUGAL. May 31, 2007.

EVOL-ution Stencil Art work by KrieBeL (source on flickr)

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change“. Charles Darwin (On the Origin of Species, Nov. 1859)

At his final chapter Charles Darwin (On the Origin of Species, Nov. 1859) reviews points from earlier chapters, and he concludes by hoping that his theory might produce revolutionary changes in many fields of natural history. Although he avoids the controversial topic of human origins in the rest of the book so as not to prejudice readers against his theory, here he ventures a cautious hint that psychology would be put on a new foundation and that “Light will be thrown on the origin of man“. Darwin ends with a passage that became well known and much quoted:

[…] It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us … Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved […]. Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, Nov. 1859. [passage from ]

[...] People should learn how to play Lego with their minds. Concepts are building bricks [...] V. Ramos, 2002.

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