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Paul Knott: on 2/27/18 at 9:45am UTC, wrote Dear Jim, I will be honest in my response: I am completely snowed under...

Paul Knott: on 2/27/18 at 9:42am UTC, wrote Dear Peter, I will be honest in my response: I am completely snowed under...

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Peter Jackson: on 2/24/18 at 12:29pm UTC, wrote Paul, I popped my essay link above as requested (Jan 31 string) Hope you...

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FQXi FORUM
August 22, 2019

CATEGORY: FQXi Essay Contest - Spring, 2017 [back]
TOPIC: How fundamental is Darwinian evolution? by Paul Knott [refresh]
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Author Paul Knott wrote on Jan. 29, 2018 @ 21:33 GMT
Essay Abstract

Despite being based on very simple principles, Darwin’s theory of natural selection is immensely powerful and can explain how the wonderful diversity of complex life evolved. But is this theory fundamental, and if not, what are its fundamental roots? To answer these questions I first introduce a more general principle of evolution that itself encompasses Darwin’s theory. I then examine which properties of our “fundamental” laws are responsible for enabling complex structures, such as life, to emerge in our universe. Along the way I discuss the arrow of time and the meaning of the term fundamental; and I explain how increasingly complex structures from atoms to giraffes can emerge from the quarks of the early universe.

Author Bio

Dr Paul Knott is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Nottingham. His current project aims to use artificial intelligence to design quantum physics experiments, in particular in quantum optics. His other research interests include quantum state engineering, quantum foundations, quantum Darwinism, and quantum information.

Download Essay PDF File

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Andrew Beckwith wrote on Jan. 30, 2018 @ 00:44 GMT
I like your essay very much. The only question I have, is why did you focus upon DARWINIAN evolution, instead of something like the nature of time?

I.e. do you view the concept of Darwinian evolution as more fundamental than the nature of time?

Thanks if you answer it.

Great essay. Not quibbling other than just wanting to get your thinking

Andy

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Author Paul Knott replied on Jan. 30, 2018 @ 11:01 GMT
Hi Andy,

Thanks for your comment. I focused on Darwinian evolution because, despite its simplicity, it has immense power in explaining how and why the incredible variety of complex life emerged. I would argue that it's one of the most important theories in science. So my motivation was to take this theory, and ask the question "how fundamental is it?".

You're right that the direction my essay headed demonstrated a close connection between the nature of time and Darwinian evolution. An essay on the fundamental nature of time would be an equally interesting topic. In my opinion though, the nature of time is not more fundamental than Darwinian evolution. This is because the nature of time doesn't directly imply or lead to the concept of Darwinian evolution. In contrast, I would argue that the nature of laws of the universe that we call fundamental (general relativity, the standard model, quantum mechanics, et cetera) do imply and lead to the concept of Darwinian evolution. I.e. if you knew all the fundamental laws, and if you knew the state of the fundamental constituents (particles etc) in the universe, then you could in principle derive the fact that on a planet such as Earth, Darwinian evolution would take place. So in a sense I would say these are more fundamental.

Cheers, Paul

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Francesco D'Isa wrote on Jan. 30, 2018 @ 08:27 GMT
Dear Paul,

A very interesting essay, which I read with pleasure.

You write that:

> Following the principle of generalised evolution we can now explain the existence of increasingly complex structures in the universe.

I was wondering: the fact that generalised evolution can explain the existence of complex structure, as you have shown, don't imply that there's something simpler behind this increasing complexity that is even more fundamental?

bests,

Francesco D'Isa

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Author Paul Knott replied on Jan. 30, 2018 @ 11:15 GMT
Dear Francesco,

Thank you for your comment. I'm sorry but I don't fully understand your question – are you asking whether I think there is something simpler and even more fundamental than generalised evolution?

I would say there are different answers to this question, depending on how you approach it. On the one hand, in the essay I argued that the principle of generalised evolution holds by definition, which means that there can't be anything simpler and more fundamental that leads to it. If something is correct by definition, then it doesn't need a deeper explanation.

On the other hand, the purpose of the principle of generalised evolution is to explain why and how complexity emerges. In the essay I argue that we can explain this without even referring to generalised evolution. I would argue that the nature of laws and constituents of the universe that we normally call fundamental (the standard model, general relativity, etc) directly lead to the evolution of complex structures. I.e. if you knew all the fundamental laws, and if you knew the state of the fundamental constituents (particles etc) in the universe, then you could derive that complexity would emerge.

I think this nicely highlights that there isn't always a single answer the question of what is fundamental, and we can take different viewpoints to find different fundamental explanations.

Cheers, Paul

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Francesco D'Isa replied on Jan. 30, 2018 @ 13:38 GMT
Dear Paul,

thank you for your answer, I'll try to be clearer, sorry. But your answer already helps me.

> On the one hand, in the essay I argued that the principle of generalised evolution holds by definition, which means that there can't be anything simpler and more fundamental that leads to it. If something is correct by definition, then it doesn't need a deeper explanation.

Do you mean this in a similar sense as "2+2=4", more as an axiom or like a self-evident empirical truth?

> I would argue that the nature of laws and constituents of the universe that we normally call fundamental (the standard model, general relativity, etc) directly lead to the evolution of complex structures. I.e. if you knew all the fundamental laws, and if you knew the state of the fundamental constituents (particles etc) in the universe, then you could derive that complexity would emerge.

In this sense evolution is a necessary consequence of more fundamental laws, like the one you quote above?

> I think this nicely highlights that there isn't always a single answer the question of what is fundamental, and we can take different viewpoints to find different fundamental explanations.

I agree, my text has similar consequences as well. Congrats for your essay!

Francesco

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Author Paul Knott replied on Jan. 31, 2018 @ 13:06 GMT
Dear Francesco,

> Do you mean this in a similar sense as "2+2=4", more as an axiom or like a self-evident empirical truth?

I wouldn't say it's an axiom, because in my understanding an axiom is something that is assumed to be true, rather than being proven to be true. But it might be like "2+2=4" in the following sense: if we ask how 4 is defined, then we could [/b define] 4 as being the number found by summing 2 and 2. If we define 4 in this way (and define +, =, 2, etc accordingly), then it is trivially true, by definition, that 2+2=4.

> In this sense evolution is a necessary consequence of more fundamental laws, like the one you quote above?

Yes, exactly!

> I agree, my text has similar consequences as well.

Ah okay, nice, I'll check out your essay then.

Thanks for these questions!

Paul

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John C Hodge wrote on Jan. 30, 2018 @ 11:22 GMT
Dr. Knott:

Part of your suggestion is that life considerations can suggest fundamental principles. Just so. (see my essay).

Another suggestion is that emergence (not reductionism) is fundamental. But you address only a small part of the emergence process see STOE emergence.

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Author Paul Knott replied on Jan. 31, 2018 @ 13:37 GMT
Dear John,

Thanks for your comments. I don't think I suggested that emergence is fundamental - in my understanding, emergence is, by definition, not fundamental. In what sense could one say that emergence is fundamental?

Due to lack of space I didn't really address emergence. But I guess I would say that Darwinian evolution is an emergent theory, which can in principle be derived from more fundamental theories such as the standard model, combined with an understanding of the entities that inhabit our universe (particles, fields, etc).

Thanks for pointing to your essay – I'll check it out.

Paul

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Eckard Blumschein wrote on Jan. 30, 2018 @ 18:13 GMT
Dear Paul Knott,

You adopted the belief-based Big Bang theory as if Darwin's principle of evolution did also start from nothing. I already asked here in vain someone else why Max Born did reject ideas by Robertson which are now accepted. Maybe, you can answer this.

Why didn't you deal with the actual and the expected evolution? In an earlier contest I wrote an essay "Towards more reasonable evolution", see [3].

Eckard Blumschein

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Author Paul Knott replied on Jan. 31, 2018 @ 13:49 GMT
Dear Eckard,

Thanks for your comment. I'm afraid I don't understand your question though. What do you mean by actual and expected evolution? How do you suggest this would fit in with my essay?

Thanks,

Paul

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Eckard Blumschein replied on Jan. 31, 2018 @ 16:03 GMT
Dear Paul,

The essay I referred to was http://www.fqxi.org/community/forum/topic/2747 .

You understand Darwinian evolution in an extended sense. When I wrote "towards a more reasonable evolution" I included the actual and future evolution of the world including nature and mankind.

I hope you will agree on what I consider our common responsibility to limit population growth as to protect the basis of our life. I vote for an appropriate correction of ethics.

Admittedly, my current essay http://www.fqxi.org/community/forum/topic/3009 merely mentions this topic as an example for a semifundamental construct although it might be more important than all physics together.

Eckard

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Andrei Kirilyuk wrote on Jan. 30, 2018 @ 18:15 GMT
Hello Paul,

I support the direction of your conclusions. I hope you may be interested in further refinement of the naturally evolving and universally defined world complexity in my essay here, within a similar general framework (see also my web site).

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Author Paul Knott replied on Jan. 31, 2018 @ 13:58 GMT
Hello Andrei,

Thanks for your message and for pointing me to your essay – I'll read it with interest.

Paul

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Heinrich Luediger wrote on Jan. 31, 2018 @ 15:35 GMT
Dear Paul,

well…I’m not convinced…

While we can tell a rather consistent, well documented and reasonable story running from early antiquity to the standard model of elementary particles, the reverse story is not only littered with wonders (called emergence) compared to which the turning of water into wine appears like hobby sorcery, but also falls victim to the argument from ancestrality. That means, either you erase your brain before talking of the early universe (which you cannot) or say that the evolving universe is the belief of that early 21st species that can be traced back to early antiquity. What you certainly cannot do is positively describing (even in terms of principles) the universe as it REALLY was, became or is.

Heinrich

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Author Paul Knott replied on Feb. 1, 2018 @ 08:59 GMT
Dear Heinrich,

Which particular part of my essay are you not convinced about? Is there a specific section or idea you disagree with?

From my perspective you seem to be saying that any discussion about the early universe is misguided?

Best,

Paul

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Heinrich Luediger replied on Feb. 1, 2018 @ 16:00 GMT
Dear Paul,

As you rightly noticed, my doubt is of a more general nature. The trouble with evolution is that it is truly objective, i.e. occupies a vantage point that no subject can ever take. Now, science, if anything, seems to be a process of ‘objectification’ – so what’s wrong here? Well, the ‘objectivity’ of, say, Newton’s laws is entirely different from that of the theory...

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Author Paul Knott replied on Feb. 1, 2018 @ 21:27 GMT
Dear Heinrich,

Despite reading your comment three times, I still don't understand your main point! However, I am extremely intrigued by what you're saying, so I'd like to try and understand if possible. Can you tell me what is wrong with the following method of doing science:

- I assume that the universe, and all the objects in it, exist independent of subjective observers

- I also assume that the universe existed in the past

- I can then ask the question: what was the universe like in the past? Using our best current theories, our best guess is that 10e-6 sec after BB the universe was a sea of quarks...

- I can then argue about how, eventually, these quarks came to form complex life (ie my essay)

Some of your comments particularly confuse me:

> doesn’t Newton’s apple fall in TIME, since there is no TIME to be found in the equations of motion

There is an equation of motion that governs how the apple moves in time?

> there are as many theories of natural evolution as there are biologists, and as many stories of the Big Bang as there are cosmologists

In my understanding, in terms of the general details there is 1 commonly agreed upon theory of natural evolution, and 1 commonly agreed upon story of the Big Bang. Of course there is disagreement at the edges of the theories, but as with every theory it's likely that these will be ironed out with time.

> any theory of evolution is subjective (as the term is commonly used) by being truly objective, i.e. object-in-TIME centered, rather than inter-subjective. This is why I said that telling the story of the universe as it TRULY evolved, would require you to erase your brain first.

I struggle to see how the former sentence implies the second?

All the best,

Paul

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Anonymous wrote on Jan. 31, 2018 @ 21:49 GMT
Paul,

I was interested in your thesis as I derived 'quantum evolution' and learning (to give 'intent') in my essay last year. I enjoyed your original approach and forthright attempt to prove a rather slippery proposition, then also that it's fundamental. Not a bad job, nicely written and argued if not entirely convincing.

I agree a lot, certainly; "removing the somewhat arbitrary...

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Author Paul Knott replied on Feb. 1, 2018 @ 09:31 GMT
Dear Peter,

I certainly agree that 'agreement' isn't a scoring criteria. This contest is about discussion and debate, and for this reason I thank you for your interesting and insightful questions.

> You also you make unsupported assumptions... "if we randomly arrange the particles in the universe it is unlikely that something worthy of performing a “measurement” would exist"....

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Peter Jackson replied on Feb. 22, 2018 @ 19:50 GMT
Paul,

Dammit it got me again! Good answers. RNA wasn't against your conclusions just a test of your response to the notion I discussed last year.

My essay is Absolute Simplicity,

yet leads to a classical mechanism (string of interactions producing a 'measurement') reproducing QM which as you might imagine will take some concentration to first follow and hold in mind.

I've also just found the Poincare Sphere has the orthogonal momenta my experiment confirms, which is the first part many brains 'reject' through unfamiliarity.

See also Declan Traill's matching code and plot confirming the CHSH >2 violation. Shocking stuff!

Very best

Peter (Jackson - just in case!!)

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Ulla Marianne Mattfolk wrote on Feb. 1, 2018 @ 14:44 GMT
I also enede with those qualitative questions why and how in my essay https://fqxi.org/community/forum/topic/3093

I Think they are extremely important and neglected. They say in math formulations that 2+2= 3 or 5, and are maybe one important drive for why Changes are made.

I have studied the Maxwell Deamon and other questions to get an answer on natural selection, and I Think I can be secure saying Darwinism and natural selection are NOT fundamental drives.

Thanks for a nice story.

Ulla Mattfolk

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Author Paul Knott replied on Feb. 2, 2018 @ 12:04 GMT
Thanks for your comment -- yes I agree! I will read your essay with interest.

All the best,

Paul

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Steven Andresen wrote on Feb. 5, 2018 @ 06:47 GMT
Dear Paul

You have selected a highly relevant subject for the contest in my opinion, formed quality reasonings, and delivered a fair and reasonable final evaluation. It is a good method of enquiry to discern fundamental nature of the world, “how fundamental is Darwinian evolution?” I scored you a 10.

You have clearly spend countless hours weighing up the arguments and trying to...

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Satyavarapu Naga Parameswara Gupta wrote on Feb. 7, 2018 @ 11:58 GMT
Dear Dr Paul Knott

Wonderful thinking ...... I first introduce a more general principle of evolution that itself encompasses Darwin’s theory. I then examine which properties of our “fundamental” laws are responsible for enabling complex structures, such as life, to emerge in our universe. Along the way I discuss the arrow of time and the meaning of the term fundamental; and I explain...

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Michael Alexeevich Popov wrote on Feb. 11, 2018 @ 16:34 GMT
Paul,hi

Molecular genetics is usually considered as a foundation of Darwin theory. However, molecular genetics assumes a kind of Fundamentalness of the two simple facts - universality of genetic code and universality of Homochirality.

Because I think that Fundamentalness could be investigated systematically as any other subject - I attempted to investigate Homochirality in Human mathematics.

Michael A. Popov " Fundamentalness of Homochirality"

THANK YOU FOR ESSAY.

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corciovei silviu wrote on Feb. 19, 2018 @ 09:48 GMT
Nicely written Mr. Knott!

Permit me a couple of questions for a more clear understanding

1. “…but even quantum mechanics is time-symmetrical if no “measurements” are performed…” can you explain in few words what you meant? In my head, confusion arises when I look the term “symmetry” as a consequence (not strictly, but dependent) of “something measured”. I mean, I can call something to be symmetrical only after I observe it. I think, though, that maybe you wanted to say something else , or there is something that I didn’t get

2. “But we do not yet know how likely the emergence of life is, never mind the emergence of intelligent life” What kind of difference do you see between “life” and “intelligent life”?

3. “From this perspective, given only the fundamental laws of our universe and the arrangement of the particles within it, we can explain the emergence of the fantastic array of complex structures that fill our cosmos” what would it be fundamental in this perspective?

Until now, I think I can give you a 9, but I will wait for your replay on the first two questions mentioned above (as the third one more like a rhetorical one). Whatever the answers I will not rate less then 9

If you do have the time and patience for another (related) essay, here you have it.

Respectfully,

Silviu

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Author Paul Knott replied on Feb. 19, 2018 @ 18:35 GMT
Dear Silviu,

Thanks for reading my essay and for these interesting questions.

1. Most of the fundamental laws of physics are symmetrical in time, meaning that if we reversed time in the equations then we would see the same dynamics. For example, if we reversed time in the general relativity equations then the planets would still orbit the sun in the same manner. But one main...

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corciovei silviu wrote on Feb. 20, 2018 @ 22:53 GMT
You've been very clear about the first question, thank you.

regarding the second one, I can understand what you are saying but nevertheless you didn't point any direct differentiation between the two forms of life. The question remains "What is the difference?" or more precisely if you like "The simple life form, dose not posses any intelligence at all?"

Anyhow I rated you

Respectfully,

Silviu

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Author Paul Knott replied on Feb. 27, 2018 @ 09:27 GMT
This is a curious question. For the purpose of my essay, we only really need to distinguish between the intelligence of say a human, compared with a bacteria. In my opinion the intelligence difference is obvious here, without having to carefully or precisely define intelligence. But (having not thought about it for long) I guess I would define intelligence as the ability to achieve a given goal. Bacteria can achieve a very limited set of goals, whereas for humans the sky is the limit – we can achieve a far broader set of goals with increasing levels of subtlety and complexity, and we can invent tools such as computers to help us achieve even more elaborate goals.

Would you think?

Best,

Paul

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Steven Andresen wrote on Feb. 22, 2018 @ 07:30 GMT
Dear Paul

Did you get around to viewing my essay?

If you are looking for another essay to read and rate in the final days of the contest, will you consider mine please?

Beyond my essay’s introduction, I place a microscope on the subjects of universal complexity and natural forces. I do so within context that clock operation is driven by Quantum Mechanical forces (atomic and...

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Author Paul Knott replied on Feb. 27, 2018 @ 09:34 GMT
Dear Steven,

I will be honest in my reply: I am completely snowed under with work at the moment with numerous important deadlines, so unfortunately I am unable to read your essay soon. However, based on your description here it sounds very interesting so I will try to read it in the future.

Best of luck to you too.

Best regards,

Paul

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Peter Jackson wrote on Feb. 24, 2018 @ 12:29 GMT
Paul,

I popped my essay link above as requested (Jan 31 string) Hope you get to read it.

I hope we may well agree our essays are equally excellent. Mine's been hit with a few 1's and I think a gentlemen's agreement not to mark down is in order as we have the same score. I'm also interested in your comments. The Classic QM sequence is hard to hold in mind at frost so I've just put a 'check list' on my string to help.

Very well done for yours, and best of luck in the run in and judging.

Peter

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Author Paul Knott replied on Feb. 27, 2018 @ 09:42 GMT
Dear Peter,

I will be honest in my response: I am completely snowed under with work at the moment with numerous important deadlines, so unfortunately I am unable to read your essay soon. However, from reading your abstract I hope (and intend) to read it soon. I will certainly not score you a 1. I also seem to have been hit recently with a few very low scores. I think that scoring 1 is a misunderstanding and misuse of the scoring system. No essay is worth 1, unless no effort has been put in at all.

Best regards,

Paul

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James Lee Hoover wrote on Feb. 24, 2018 @ 18:06 GMT
Paul,

Quantum Darwinism is as fascinating and intriguing a subject as quantum biology which caught my interest with Life on the Edge by Jim Al-Khalili in which he speaks of quantum coherence in warm, wet, turbulent systems such as plants and microbes. An article in Discovery Magazine describing Hameroff’s microtubules in the brain’s neurons, now, there is quantum Darwinism. Your description of generalized evolution makes perfect sense, as does biological Darwinism as a special case of it.

In my last essay, “Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice,” I cited a new theory by Jeremy England: “According to Dr. Jeremy England , a clump of atoms, when driven by some form of external energy, such as the Sun, and surrounded by a heat bath (ocean or atmosphere, for example), will always restructure itself in order to dissipate increasingly more energy into the surrounding environment. We are speaking of a mindless process where matter, is a dissipation-driven organization, that naturally seeks self-replication to ramp up its ability to dissipate energy.” It speaks of a natural process driven by entropy. You might find this of interest, as well.

In the context of your cogent description of generalized evolution taking us back to the theorized BB, Darwinian evolution seems quite fundamental. I too describe our concepts and efforts to unravel the mysteries of the universe’s beginning but do not offer the descriptive basics you do to bring it into focus. At this late stage of the contest, I give you the highest marks. Hope you have time to check out my essay.

Jim Hoover

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Author Paul Knott replied on Feb. 27, 2018 @ 09:45 GMT
Dear Jim,

I will be honest in my response: I am completely snowed under with work at the moment with numerous important deadlines, so unfortunately I am unable to read your essay at the moment. I hope to be free from these responsibilities soon, and after that I will read your essay as it sounds very interesting from your description here.

Thank you for your generous rating! (Unfortunately my score has dropped somewhat since then!)

Best,

Paul

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James Lee Hoover wrote on Feb. 24, 2018 @ 21:22 GMT
Paul,

Someone visited you after I did w/o a comment. If you are keeping track, I gave you a 10 and you were riding in the 7.4 range.

Jim

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