Monday, January 14, 2008

Trivially True

A few years ago, I went to The Denver Museum of Nature and Science with my cousin, although truth in advertising ought to render the name The Denver Temple for Naturalistic Humanism. In the evolution corner of this temple, they had a computer running a game that was designed to teach Natural Selection. The game was simple: you start with about a dozen moths. Some of the moths were slow, some were fast. Some were dark and some were bright. These moths fluttered around the screen and the person who played the game got to be the predator “eating” moths.

Most people caught the slow bright moths. After about half the population was “eaten”, the remaining population randomly bred and the characters were passed on based on Mendel’s genetic theories. Then a new generation came forth and you got to eat more moths.

After a time, the slow bright moths went extinct and you’d be left with a bunch of fast dark moths. This would prove Natural Selection.

Except that my cousin and I knew that this was what the game wanted, so we purposely killed the fast dark moths. By the end of the game, we were left with a bunch of slow bright moths. But have no fear. Our version of events proved Natural Selection too.

How’s that? Because we, as predators, selected against the fast dark moths just as much as the average predator selected against slow bright moths.

There is a problem with this kind of “proof” for a theory. A theory that “proves” everything really proves nothing. It becomes an irrelevant factor.

For a simple example of this, consider the equation: x + n = y + n. In this case, we have a “like term” in both sides of the equation. As anyone familiar with algebra knows, we can cancel like terms out because they are irrelevant to the rest of the equation. If the left side has a “+ n” and the right side has a “+ n”, the “+ n” gives us no meaningful information for determining the answer to the problem. If we subtract “+ n” from both sides, we get the simple x = y.

Now suppose that “x + n = y + n” represents a theory that I was going to argue was valid. If my argument consisted of proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that “+ n” was true, does my argument provide any meaningful substance? Obviously not. The “+ n” factor is trivial. It can be true (or false for that matter) and it has no impact on the rest of the theory, because in the end “+ n” cancels itself out.

The reason I bring this up is to make what is a rather obvious, yet easily missed, point. Darwinists are quick to point to Natural Selection as their explanation for what drives Darwinism. However, the way they use Natural Selection renders the term trivial. We return to my original example of the moth program. It is true that selection occurs when the average person kills off the slow bright moths. But it is likewise true that selection occurs when I kill off the fast dark moths. In both sides of this equation, selection occurs. But the fact of selection is irrelevant to which species lives and which dies in that computer program. It does not matter if a choice is made; it matters what the determining factors of that selection are.

This game was supposed to analogize natural functions by using human selection as a pattern of natural selection (no one can fault the programmers as Darwin used the same analogy). But the issue of selection is not relevant, for if it were then it would be impossible for me to go against the outcome. That is, if Natural Selection were not trivial, we would be able to say “The slow bright moths will go extinct” and no matter what they would go extinct. But because I can choose to kill off the fast dark moths, this result is not guaranteed. To then say, “That’s Natural Selection too” is to stretch the term to the point of breaking.

If we use Gould’s concept of “rerunning life’s tape” a second time, we see that Natural Selection is trivial in nature too. If Natural Selection is a viable theory, we must be able to predict beforehand which populations will survive any specific event, and which will not. It is not enough to slap the label “Natural Selection” after the fact. To be a meaningful experiment, we must be able to predict. (This is basic science and should not be controversial.)

But we cannot predict which species will survive and which will not. Even in theory, we cannot determine which fossils would survive and which would not given a “do over” at a cataclysmic event. To say, “No matter what result occurs, that process is called Natural Selection” is to relegate Natural Selection to a completely irrelevant term. This doesn’t necessarily make Natural Selection false, it just makes it trivial.

Put it this way. Darwinists use Natural Selection as an explanatory theory. That is, the reason that one organism lives and another dies is because of Natural Selection. But in the above we have seen that if this were true, we could use Natural Selection to predict which would live and which would not. But that is not even possible in principal. Therefore, Natural Selection cannot be explanatory for it is claimed true regardless of which organism lives and which organism dies. If it is not explanatory, it can only be definitional (that is: “The process by which an organism lives while another organism dies out is known as Natural Selection”). But definitions are tautologies, not explanations.

In the end, Natural Selection cannot be an explanation for why any organism survives. It becomes the “+ n” in the equation, for it is tautologically true regardless of anything else. Natural Selection therefore may be true, but it will remain trivial. Indeed, under this process Natural Selection is true in Creationism and Intelligent Design as well as Darwinism. Since Natural Selection is not explanatory under this system and instead is a definition that those organisms that survive are those that survive, it remains trivial.

Perhaps the greatest evidence of this lies in the fact that while a Darwinist may often claim, “Darwinism is just as proven as Einstein’s theory of Relativity” you will never hear a physicist say, “Einstein’s theory of Relativity is just as proven as Darwinism.” The reason? A physicist can say, “If Einstein is true, light will bend when it passes through a gravity field; and it will not bend if it is false.” There is only one possible outcome, and we can see that light does indeed bend in gravity. On the other hand, the Darwinist says, “If organism X lives, it is Natural Selection; but if it dies it is Natural Selection too.”

There is a world of difference between the two.

22 comments:

  1. Yes, and on top of that, notice that even Einstein is not thereby proven right.

    You wrote: “If Einstein is true, light will bend when it passes through a gravity field; and it will not bend if it is false.” There is only one possible outcome, and we can see that light does indeed bend in gravity."

    I don't want to dismiss Einstein or anything, but it is logically fallacious to deduce the correctness of his theory in the way you suggest. Light may be bent in gravity due to an infinite number of reasons besides the one suggested by Einstein.

    If it rained last night, the street would be wet. Now, the street is wet, so it must have rained, right? Answer: maybe.

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  2. Goddidit

    case closed.

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  3. Skeptic of Naturalism1/14/2008 5:03 PM

    Pike wrote:

    [Put it this way. Darwinists use Natural Selection as an explanatory theory. That is, the reason that one organism lives and another dies is because of Natural Selection. But in the above we have seen that if this were true, we could use Natural Selection to predict which would live and which would not. But that is not even possible in principal. Therefore, Natural Selection cannot be explanatory for it is claimed true regardless of which organism lives and which organism dies. If it is not explanatory, it can only be definitional (that is: “The process by which an organism lives while another organism dies out is known as Natural Selection”). But definitions are tautologies, not explanations.

    In the end, Natural Selection cannot be an explanation for why any organism survives. It becomes the “+ n” in the equation, for it is tautologically true regardless of anything else. Natural Selection therefore may be true, but it will remain trivial. Indeed, under this process Natural Selection is true in Creationism and Intelligent Design as well as Darwinism. Since Natural Selection is not explanatory under this system and instead is a definition that those organisms that survive are those that survive, it remains trivial.]

    I don’t get it.

    Atheologians talk about “Natural Selection” as if it is a force in nature that causes events to occur. The physicist can tell us about actual forces in nature such as gravity that can be measured and used to explain the occurrence of some event.

    But where exactly is this force in nature called “Natural Selection” to be found?

    I do not believe that it exists. As it does not exist, it cannot be used or invoked as a scientific explanation of any phenomena or event in nature. And yet atheologians continue to invoke it, as if, this force is real, exists in nature, and can be used to explain certain events.

    It reminds of times when people will speak of “chance” as if, like “natural selection”, it is a force in nature that causes things to happen. There is no such force in nature called chance either. If you mean that the event was accidental, that just means it was not done intentionally. If you mean that the event was a surprise, that just means that the event was not predicted to occur. Sometimes “chance” is used because we don’t have an explanation, do not know the causal factors involved. But “chance” like “natural selection” are pseudo-forces, imaginary forces, sometimes invoked as explanations when neither one exists as a force in nature.

    Can some atheologian or nonbeliever out there help me? What is the evidence of this force in nature called “natural selection”? Why don’t the physicists speak about this force of “natural selection” when discussing physical forces in nature?

    Skeptic of Naturalism

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  4. doesn't Natural Selection explain observed behavior?

    What are you talking about...it being A FORCE?

    too much Star Wars?

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  5. A Salty Dog said:
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    I don't want to dismiss Einstein or anything, but it is logically fallacious to deduce the correctness of his theory in the way you suggest.
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    I did not mean to "suggest" that was the case. I merely did not wish to spend energy on this tangental point.

    In any case, Einstein's theories at least have the ability to be tested (at which point we can say "They have not been disproven"); Natural Selection, at least as it is used by Darwinists, cannot be tested for it is "proved" no matter what.


    Anonymousdidit said:
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    Goddidit
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    Howaboutaddressingmyargumentforachange?


    Obiwan said:
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    doesn't Natural Selection explain observed behavior?
    ---

    How is being eaten by a predator a "behavior"?...

    In any case, I have observed you didn't read my blog post, as Natural Selection explains nothing as it is currently used by Darwiniacs.

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  6. skeptic of naturalism1/14/2008 6:16 PM

    May the force be with you Obiwan! :-)
    “doesn't Natural Selection explain observed behavior?

    What are you talking about...it being A FORCE?

    too much Star Wars?”

    When I read Darwinists they write glowingly and eloquently and lovingly and worshipfully and admiringly about NS doing this and doing that, causing this and causing that to occur. They talk about “it” as if it were creative and intelligent force operating in nature. My point is simple: there ain’t no such thing. There is no causal force in nature that we could designate as NS. It does not exist. Explaining events by appealing to a non-existent force in nature makes no sense at all.

    If I said that the reason people are alive is because they have blips circulating through their body. That would not be irrational if in my language “blips” refers to what in English we call “blood.” However, if “blips” do not exist and I make reference to them in attempting an explanation, then my explanation is irrational. “Blips” circulating in the body are just as real as NS as a force in nature.

    It is both humorous and sad to see Darwinists speaking glowingly and almost worshipfully about the amazing and creative actions done by NS. Sort of like when Dawkins talks about how nature manifests this apparent design, but it is not really designed by God, rather, it is beautifully and creatively done by NS. So attributing design and beauty and creativity is not acceptable if it is attributed to God: but its OK to speak glowingly, lovingly, worshipfully and in awe, of what a nonexistent force accomplishes?

    I feel like the kid in the Hans Christian Anderson story about the Emperor not having clothes and the Darwinists are extolling this non-existent force for accomplishing these incredible things. And from my understanding of science, especially physics, NS does not exist as a force in nature, nor is NS a personal agent. So if NS is not a force and not an agent, then how is NS accomplishing anything?

    Pike added:
    “In any case, I have observed you didn't read my blog post, as Natural Selection explains nothing as it is currently used by Darwiniacs.”

    I do not know who “Darwiniacs” are (are they beings that have “blips” circulating in their bodies keeping them alive?). :-) But I do know that appealing to what NS does, speaking of how NS accomplishes things, when in fact there is no such thing as NS (as a force) in nature, does not make sense.

    Again to the atheologians and nonbelievers, show me the existence of NS as a force in nature. If you cannot show this force to be real, then stop talking about NS as if it is a real force operating in nature.

    Skeptic of Naturalism

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  7. Peter Pike said:
    How is being eaten by a predator a "behavior"?...
    Predator behavior: predator only eats dark moths

    Peter Pike said:
    But because I can choose to kill off the fast dark moths, this result is not guaranteed. To then say, “That’s Natural Selection too” is to stretch the term to the point of breaking.
    Natural selections: if predator eats only one kind of moths, other type of moths survive.
    Next time try to kill random moths to see the drift or only kill gray moths to see the beginning of speciation or do a power cycle and see how local natural disaster effects the population...

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  8. There is a good discussion of the use of the "force" metaphor for NS in Making Sense of Evolution by Pigliucci and Kaplan if anyone's interested. Overall I thought the book was well done, and worth checking out.

    [sorry if that doesn't really address the OP]

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  9. I'd recommend (if you haven't already read it) John Sanford's work, "Genetic Entropy", where he shows, using the works of Darwinist population geneticists, that NS doesn't have enough power to do "selecting" most of the time. Most of the time, phenotype plays only a minor role in what lives and what dies since the power of natural selection is drowned out by other factors called "noise".

    Even if it could, then RM+NS still wouldn't have enough time (even with 4.5 billion yrs.) to make the shift from the pre-chimp to a human. This is Haldane's Dilemma.

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  10. I asked:
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    How is being eaten by a predator a "behavior"?...
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    Peter (not me) responded:
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    Predator behavior: predator only eats dark moths
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    That's the answer to the question "How is eating something a behavior?" I asked: "How is being eaten by a predator a 'behavior'?" (emphasis added).

    The eaten prey is most certainly not engaged in behavior while it's being chomped up.


    Peter (not me) said:
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    Natural selections: if predator eats only one kind of moths, other type of moths survive.
    ---

    I understand that this is what Natural Selection states, but you apparently do not understand that this is not an explanation. You are simply saying, "X eats Y and that is Natural Selection." Again, we are working with tautologial definitions, which are trivial.

    It is just as true for the Creationist that certain predators only eat certain moths. This doesn't provide any useful information to the debate. This information is trivial, which is my point.

    Peter (not me) said:
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    Next time try to kill random moths to see the drift or only kill gray moths to see the beginning of speciation or do a power cycle and see how local natural disaster effects the population...
    ---

    Two problems. 1) I didn't program the machine and 2) this still remains an analogy no matter how many things you package with it. In the end, I'm not interested in the computer simulation at all. I'm interested in real-world results.

    BTW, none of these things would be "natural" anyway, as they are all caused by the intelligent experimentor. There is no way to simulate Natural Selection, for if we decide to strike a population with the plague to see what happens, that's intelligent interfence. The only way to truly know would be to watch what actually happens in nature.

    That is not to say that we cannot gain inferences from simulations. However, we ought to recognize their limitations too. Scientists are supposed to be skeptical, after all. Why do they swallow this lock, stock, and barrel all the time?


    S&S said:
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    I'd recommend (if you haven't already read it) John Sanford's work, "Genetic Entropy", where he shows, using the works of Darwinist population geneticists, that NS doesn't have enough power to do "selecting" most of the time. Most of the time, phenotype plays only a minor role in what lives and what dies since the power of natural selection is drowned out by other factors called "noise".
    ---

    Indeed, I believe this is the underlying basis for Gould's claim that one cannot rerun life's tape and get the same result twice. Even Ernst Mayr acknowledged that most of the time, species are very stable. There cannot be much evolutionary drift because (the theory goes) so much evolution has occured that the species are already adapted as well as they could be to their environments. The only way to have any new evolution is to change the environment radically enough, which would be via such things as cataclysms. The only problem with those catastrophes are that it is impossible to predict what organisms would survive, because even if we stipulate Natural Selection works to keep the status quo (which is something that Creationists would have no problem with--mutations that are detrimental are most certainly weeded out by the death of those individuals), Natural Selection most certainly doesn't "work" for catastrophes, where the principal is closer to "survival of the lucky" than it is to "survival of the fittest."

    S&S said:
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    Even if it could, then RM+NS still wouldn't have enough time (even with 4.5 billion yrs.) to make the shift from the pre-chimp to a human. This is Haldane's Dilemma.
    ---

    Indeed. And this is due mostly to the fact that Natural Selection really keeps species at the status quo. Any departure from the norm is almost certainly detrimental to the survival of the organism, and as such once you have a relatively stable environment, even if we grant all the assumptions to the Darwinist that we can he does not have enough material to build his castle.

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  11. Peter Pike said:
    How is being eaten by a predator a 'behavior'?"
    Of course it is not. Behavior is actions or reactions of an organism. If one gets hit by a lightning strike, it is not a behavior, it is a tragedy.

    Peter Pike said:
    I understand that this is what Natural Selection states, but you apparently do not understand that this is not an explanation.
    I'm sorry you don't see the explanation. In your example the predator (natural) behavior (selection) explained why there were no more dark moths.

    Peter Pike said:
    Two problems. 1) I didn't program the machine and 2) this still remains an analogy no matter how many things you package with it.
    No problem. 1) You didn't need to, some else did it. If you think it does not simulate the real world, build your own simulator. 2) You are right, it was an analogy.

    Peter Pike said:
    I'm interested in real-world results.
    Good, go find them. If you are in a rush use bacteria, for example feeding them Nylon. If you have more time, study insects like mosquitos in the London underground. If you have even more time, observe mammals like house mice on Madeira. Once you formulated your own competing theory and proved it, Nobel prize is yours.

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  12. Natural selection is really not such a hard concept to "get". I am no scientist, and yet I can see why a pack of wolves charging a herd of caribous will preferably go after the weaker individuals, hence reducing their chances to pass on their genes to the next generations. It’s a logical behavior motivated by the harsh requirements of their subsistence. (No need to invoke a mysterious force behind it.) Changing environmental conditions, including competition with other predators and preys (who themselves keep evolving) will keep changing the parameters of the equation, and lead to fortune reversals. For example, under certain conditions, it may be advantageous for a given species to become larger. Should the environment change (e.g., isolation of a population from the mainland), the opposite may become true. The fact that natural selection favors one evolution trend under certain conditions, and another (perhaps opposite one) under other conditions, hardly makes it irrelevant.

    To go back to the moth example, maybe it’s true that natural selection will lead to the extinction of the slow white ones, given the evolutionary pressure they are facing (see the dodo for a real life example). But let’s not forget that it’s also natural selection that caused them to be slow and white in the first place. They are now at a disadvantage simply because something has changed in their environment. Being fast and dark is temporarily the winning combination of attributes, until something else changes yet again.

    As for the relative stability of species, I would venture that fitness to a particular environment is always a matter of optimization under (many) constraints, and the capacity to adapt is one of critical components of success. Many species have become too "perfect" for their own good, and ended up extinct.

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  13. "Natural selection is really not such a hard concept to "get"."

    No, you're right, natural selection isn't hard to get.

    It's just that it doesn't have enough power to actually select in the real world what evolutionary biologists impute to it in theory.

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  14. Skeptic of Naturalism1/15/2008 11:45 AM

    Some unknown person wrote:

    “Natural selection is really not such a hard concept to "get". I am no scientist, and yet I can see why a pack of wolves charging a herd of caribous will preferably go after the weaker individuals, hence reducing their chances to pass on their genes to the next generations. It’s a logical behavior motivated by the harsh requirements of their subsistence. (No need to invoke a mysterious force behind it.)”

    I have no problem with the idea or concept that environmental conditions in nature tend to eliminate some while leading to the survival of others.

    My problem is in hearing and reading and talking with Darwinists, is that they talk about NS as if it were an actual force in nature creating life, creating species, doing things. Put another way, they talk about NS as if it were an actually existing force, a god-like creative force producing and doing things. And this force does not exist. If you are going to talk about environmental conditions leading to the death of some and survival of others, this is a far cry from the creative force that creates all of life according to the Darwinists. The fact is that if you reject the God of Christian theism you will come up with some sort of replacement, some sort of being that functions as God in your creation explanation. For the Darwinist this “god” is NS, and yet NS as a force does not exist in nature. There is no being that we can refer to that is NS. There is no force in nature that we can refer to as NS. Environmental factors resulting in the death of some and survival of others is hardly a “god” capable of producing life or the diversity and order we find in nature.

    Skeptic of Naturalism

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  15. Pike, you're an idiot. Let's say a rock falls to the ground unhindered. Newtonian physics explains that. Let's say in another scenario I introduce another force (intercepting the rock with my hand, say) to stop the rock. Newtonian physics explains that as well. Does Newtonian physics have no explanatory power since two outcomes are possible? Of course not, since they are two different scenarios.
    Same thing with your bone headed black/white moth analogy. Of course NS has explanatory power. You are just positing two totally different scenarios with different specifics. Please repent of your dishonest sophistry and post an apology toute d'suite.

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  16. Rich Dockinns1/15/2008 1:45 PM

    Anonymous, you're an idiot. Newtonian physics can predict which of the two events will occur in advance. Natural Selection is whatever just happened no matter what it was. Repent of your dishonest sophistry and post an apology toute d'suite.

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  17. dockkins, please. Are you just aping the I'm-rubber-you're-glue-approach of this blog, or are you really making a serious point?
    To get off the ground here, how would you define 'Natural Selection'? Is it defined only as 'well, somebody survives'?
    Pike is the Harry McCall of Triablogue. These clowns should take a note from Gordon Clark and try to define their terms precisely, if they're truly interested in avoiding sophistry.

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  18. rich dockinns1/15/2008 3:25 PM

    Anonymous, please. Are you just aping the ignorant atheist approach in these comments, or are you really making a serious point?
    To get off the ground here, you could start by reading the original post before you comment on it.
    Anonymous is the Gomer Pile of comments. These clowns should take a note from Hunter S. Thompson and buy a shotgun, if they're truly interested in avoiding sophistry.

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  19. Peter, good discussion of this oft-overlooked fallacy! I've seen this used rather frequently in the ideological propaganda frequently found in popular drama. It's effectiveness is associative. In other words, they'll present an idea, which is either proven or desired, as associated with the idea they wish to propagate and ignore, downplay, or misrepresent the presence of the factor on the other side of the equation.

    As for Natural Selection, many creationists recognize Natural Selection as a factor in normal speciation, but it always leads to a loss of genetic information, never to a change of genetic structure. So it has nothing to contribute in the debate over whether it's possible for genetic mutation to reconstruct the genetic format for one family into a new genetic format for another family. That's a leap of logic that is decidedly unproven, extremely unlikely and intentionally glossed over with fallacies like the one you've observed here.

    Kudos

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  20. Jim Pemberton said:
    good discussion of this oft-overlooked fallacy....

    looks like it...
    Someone keeps so deleting my posts when I challenge creationist views...

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  21. Since the only posts that have ever been deleted are the "Goddidit" posts, Peter (not me) is our anonymous poster!

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  22. I would give good money if just one atheist evolutionist would answer my basic q's concerning evolution.Lord knows I have tried in fair and level playing field debate, but I really dont get my answers.They are basic, but going on about ten years basic!

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