Relational Evolution Puzzle

If your GoldenHammer is so great, why didn't evolution use it?

Because evolution is the SurvivalOfTheSurvivors and we haven't had that many generations yet to let statistics kick in.
Some have implied that relational is "objectively better" (paraphrased) than other approaches as claimed in [insert links]. Although I personally prefer relational in general, I will not commit to claiming it objectively better. It just may be a personal preference on my part.

But if relational is universally superior, then why didn't brains evolve to use it? Wouldn't evolution find the near-optimal solution eventually and dispense with the navigational-like structure it appears to have? The brain is the most sophisticated database known. This applies to any other universally claimed GoldenHammer or BigIdea, not just relational, by the way. Relational is merely used as a point of reference.

One possible claim is that the brain is an analog device and that relational cannot be analog. However, digital can (must?) be emulated with analog. One could argue that there is a big DiscontinuitySpike that evolution must jump over to get a sufficient advantage from digital. But this impediment itself has not been identified so far.

One may also argue that biology requires a high degree of tolerances ("fuzziness") such that the exactness needed for relational to be advantageous cannot exist in biology. But this alone may say something about relational's ability to adapt to a fast-changing or poorly-understood domain. Something that works well in a pristine environment may not work well in churning environment. Some seem to have the opinion that if one is "smart enough", they can precisely encode the rules of a domain such that safe invariants (base idioms) can be found on which to build a reliable model on top of. While this may be mostly true of chemistry and physics, it appears to not be for domains based on human-generated rules (law, marketing, etc.). Thus, the RelationalEvolutionPuzzle may tell us something about the limits of relational.


And, top, is there any more sheer speculation you feel is worthy of a distinct page?

I'd note that it is very well known (via experiment with a variety of evolutionary and genetics-based algorithms) that evolution-based approaches lead only to local maxima in the fitness function. It is not feasible to compete with the local maxima in any slow evolution towards a more global maxima - that would take a revolutionary change (e.g. a mutation) that survives.

Unless one can demonstrate that there is a clear evolutionary path (one not starting in or crossing a local maxima) between neural-networked associative memory and relational, there is simply no reason to believe evolution is even capable of such a change; the issue of whether relational is better or worse is quite irrelevant if there is no evolutionary path from one to the other. Thus, Top's whole line of speculation is moot... culled by Occam's razor, as it were.

As to whether one is better than another: relational clearly offers much better recall; neural-networked associative is based entirely on recognition-based triggers - i.e. you cannot, on demand, provide a list of all the phone-numbers you remember. Even in simulated neural-network associative memory this is a serious problem: you cannot ask a neural network to tell you what it knows. You can only ask it questions and receive answers possessing associative triggers. If the intent is to support arbitrary recall, brains make truly awful databases.

Apparently someone else was providing the same answer above and stomped my edit, but I'll leave it here anyway.

It's worth noting that higher intelligence, greater recall, etc. among humans has not been demonstrated to be an evolutionary advantage - i.e. not when it comes to procreation and survival. Indeed, if anything, the opposite seems to be true: persons of lower education (which is only a very loose metric for intelligence) tend to have more children and start having children earlier. But that isn't really sufficient to make good conclusions. As one song goes: "been around the world and found that only stupid people are breeding, cretins groaning and feeding, and I don't even own a TV" - Flagpole Sitta by Harvey Danger.

An IQ test is not a very good test of all possible kinds of "intelligence". Social intelligence and athletic intelligence may require powerful "brain-math", but its not something normally measured in intelligent tests. Sales experts are some of the most highly paid people there are. Thus, our economic system values them. And, the fact that many geeks do poorly at social intelligence suggests that one cannot master all kinds of intelligence at the same time and there is only so much CPU cycles to go around.

... Now feel free to relate this currently irrelevant passage to the RelationalEvolutionPuzzle.

PageAnchor: R-History

The RelationalModel has only been claimed to be "objectively better" in certain contexts -- such as compared to certain hierarchical models for general-purpose database management -- and even then there are exceptions. I know of no claim that the RelationalModel is universally "better", for any definitions of "universal" or "better".

I'd be interested to know what these "certain contexts" were. The claims were beyond hierarchical DB comparisons.

The notable contexts that spurred the development of the relational model were, in particular, the database systems of the late 1960s and early 1970s that were based on network and hierarchical models, and that were particularly tied to specific system architectures. The relational model was (eventually) considered superior due to its simplicity, theoretical rigour (which permitted the creation of provably-correct automated optimisations), and system independence.

It is possible to build an architecture-independent network DB also, but these didn't do so well in the market-place. And I'd use relational even if it didn't have "integrity" features such as ACID and cascading deletes, for it would be no worse than the alternatives.
Who's to say our brains don't use relational techniques somewhere? What I find extremely odd, is that some people assume our brains are using some sort of functional code in them. But if you analyze a cell, which is what our bodies and brains are composed of, it is actually an abstract structure or object. A cell has hidden parts inside it, such as mitochondria structures, walls that let things in and out. It's very structural and modular.

There is a communication system that runs through the body and sends physical and electrical items into these cells - which is what the object oriented paradigm was actually originally trying to get at with it's message passing cellular analogy. A cell also has a number of procedures that it executes based on input and output. A cell's walls fit well with Wirth's definition of defining modules to create walls.

Who's to say that cells and/or our brain do not also utilize relational techniques? Who's to say that when we think, in our brains there are not some relational searches or queries happening? Is there proof that relational is not used in our brains or was that just someone's best guess?

First, argumentum ad ignorantiam is worth even less than reasoned speculation. Second, I take it you've never studied human memory or psychology? There is evidence to indicate we have nothing like 'tables' of data (give a list of all the people and phone numbers you remember! right now! - it's impossible for a human) and we certainly don't do anything like joins on them (MRI scans have never revealed anything like cross-brain memory interactions).

Stop thinking in boxy tables (typical for an amateur who hasn't studied relational model) and start thinking about relationships. If you try to remember where your pencil was last seen, you relate it to your desk, your floor, your pencil case, your container, your binder, your organizer, your pocket. It is not a single tree hierarchy with inheritance.

Relational is about mathematical relationships, not mental associations. And these relationships are very 'boxy' - strictly speaking, a relation - even a constructed relation or view - is a set of tuples all of identical arity. And you seem to be basing your argument upon a FalseDichotomy: there are a great number of non-relational data storage approaches that are also not "single tree hierarchies with inheritance". Associative memory, neural networks, and tuple spaces are among them.

Quote: Biological beings tend to use FuzzyPredicate for lack of a better description. In other words, the best match within a given amount of time. This differs from the all-or-nothing matches of traditional predicate queries. Somewhere around this wiki is a related topic where SOM's were discussed. --top


View edit of June 4, 2008 or FindPage with title or text search