Thursday, July 17, 2014

North American IDists Screw Up Irreducible Complexity Definition


The North American ID movement’s concept of irreducibly complexity is badly formed; it defines irreducible complexity as the necessary juxtaposition of two or more parts in order for a function to work. But quoting a footnote to one of my blog posts :

Irreducible/reducible complexity: I don’t use these terms in the sense of Micheal Behe’s flawed concept of irreducible complexity. Irreducible complexity and reducible complexity as I conceive them are to do with how stable organic structures are laid out in configuration space. If a set of structures are reducibly complex they form a connected set in configuration space: This means that the diffusional computational process of evolution can bring about considerable change in organic structure. Irreducible complexity, on the other hand, is the opposite. That is, when such structures are widely separated in configuration space it is not possible for evolutionary diffusion to hop from one organism to another. Irreducible complexity, if defined properly (that is, not in the Behe sense), is an evolution stopper.

....the implication being that the Behe definition and that promoted by an ID site like "Uncommon Desent" is not an evolution stopper.
Further details on my view of irreducible complexity can be seen here:
The weakness of the North American concept of irreducible complexity becomes all too apparent in one of PZ Myers posts where he criticizes IDist Casey Luskin’s use of the concept. See here:

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Saturday, July 05, 2014

The Watchtower on Creation

I have managed to lay my hands on another of the Watchtower’s (that is, the Jehovah’s Witnesses) creation magazines. Its title is “Was Life Created?” and it is dated 2010. If you read the two pages I reproduce below you will see that as per my previous post on the subject we find the Watchtower is anxious to disassociate itself from the “religious fundamentalists [who] believe that the Earth and everything on it was created in six 24 hour days”.  In fact the approach of this magazine is very much along the lines taken by the North American intelligent design people who generally believe the Earth to be old but are highly critical of evolutionary theory. 


(Click to read)

As you will see by reading the above pages the Watchtower certainly knows how to play this card: They can align themselves with the scientific establishment against the crackpot anti-science Genesis literalists and at the same time play on doubts about evolution, driving a wedge between design and natural history.  But as I said in my previous article, the JWs are every bit as fundamentalist as the Genesis literalists in the sense I define here: In particular their concept of dealing with sin is bound up with an observance driven faith and this aspect of the Watchtower is very fundamentalist in flavour. This leads them to engage in the holy character assassination of detractors who criticise their system of observances, a practice that is common among fundamentalists. This holy bad mouthing serves the function of engendering the moral duress and alienation that helps separate out a sect's “holy remnant” from society at large. It can also have the knock on effect of making sect affiliates susceptible to a conspiracy theorists world view.

The Jehovah's Witnesses go back to the 19th century when the issue among Christians was not the age of the Earth but eschatology. Because they are a cult the Jehovah's Witnesses were well insulated from the evangelical cultural alienation of the 1960s which panicked many evangelicals into supporting the anti-science stance of Young Earth Creationism.

On Date Fixing


This 1984 'Watchtower' cover (on the left of this picture) alludes to the now defunct view of the JWs that the end of "this system of things" would come within one generation of 1914. At one time the JW's Obsessive Compulsive Disorder was with date fixing but they have had some aversion therapy (i.e. repeated prediction failure!) that seems to have fixed it for them (The OCD, not the dates!). No surprise that an embarrassment of this order is no longer spoken about among them. Equally as embarrassing is the quiz for kids, pictured below, by a Genesis literalist. It also is based on date fixing; namely, a believe in the creation of the cosmos a mere 6000 odd years ago. Much of the Genesis literalist's faith revolves around this particular OCD and they are likely to consider Christians who don't suffer from it as having an inferior faith. But unlike the JWs they haven't quietly dropped the date; on the contrary they are very proud of misleading impressionable children (and ignorant adults) up this garden path of crackpottery! 

Caveat: Poe's law means that the provenance of the above two pictures is subject to question, but as far as I'm aware they are both genuine

Relevant links:

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Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Contingency and the Grand Logical Hiatus

I first heard this argument in 1973!

The above picture was published on a Facebook thread by an atheist. It was used as the basis for a rebuttal of the first cause argument for God. The idea of getting something from nothing was also tendered as perfectly OK providing we use the “sophisticated” concept of “nothing” used by physicists, such as, perhaps, the quantum vacuum. Below I publish the answers I gave. I’ve always agreed that the Kalam First cause argument (as promoted by William Lane Craig, for instance) is a poor argument for God, although I took issue with the “something from nothing” argument.

First Cause Argument. Arguments which presuppose a well-defined concept of “cause and effect” in order to either deny or affirm theism are in my view fundamentally flawed.
Firstly: In physics time appears as just another coordinate of the space-time canvass on which the patterns of matter in motion are impressed. This loss of time as a special coordinate immediately raises a question over the preferred use of time as the basis for some kind of “cause and effect” notion requiring the arrow of time to define it. The arrow of time is a little problematical in physics (although not in human subjective experience!)
Secondly: Physics is about the mathematical description or understanding of pattern. In some of these patterns, in particular the highly disordered patterns of randomness, the concept of cause and effect is rather ill defined. (Note: “cause and effect” is probably most well defined in Newtonian physics)
In the light of these considerations I’ve long suspected the Kalam first cause argument for God to be bogus. (Even though I’m a theist).   
        
Something for nothing? Perhaps the concept of an empty or null set is the nearest we can come to defining “nothing” with any mathematical rigor. But on this reckoning we find that the complex set of mathematical objects describing a “quantum vacuum” which could (conceivably) generate our current universe is far from “nothing”. The one-liner mathematical basis for this indictment of the notion of “something coming from nothing” is found in data compression theory: It is impossible to compress a data set to “nothing” (i.e. no data). Ergo, “something from nothing” simply doesn’t stack up from a mathematical point of view.

The problem of contingency A corollary of this is that contingency is necessarily built into the mathematical objects with which we attempt to understand and describe the cosmos: Physical theorizing always entails the preferential selection of particular mathematical objects: Viz: Of all the possible mathematical objects that occupy platonic space only a tiny apparently arbitrarily selected subset has been “chosen” to work for our universe. This asymmetry of selection can be expressed by the question: “Why has one small set of mathematical objects been put up for physical reification in preference to others?”
Physicist Max Tegmark has realized that this contingency issue needs some explaining and so this has prompted him to come up with his “Mathematical Universe” concept. Here, the “preference enigma” is removed by simply postulating that somehow all mathematical objects, and not just some, have been reified as truly existing ontologies and our universe is just one of those reified ontologies. This theory of Tegmark’s is a form of extreme “Copernicanism”.
The fact is physical “explanation” is philosophically shallow and actually only goes as far as providing us with descriptive understandings of the status quo. In one sense “explanation” of this kind utterly fails to satisfy our intuitively felt yearning for answers to the problem of contingency; Viz Why this particular Universe? Our intuitions seek to appeal to some deeper obliging logic, than “It just is!”

Tegmark’s MU is just one attempt to provide something deeper; it’s not a good answer in my view but it at least takes our philosophical yearnings seriously, as do other attempts such as the simulation argument, various multiverse arguments and theism itself. They all represent attempts by the mind of (wo)man to go beyond a mere understanding of the status quo and make sense of that enigmatic cosmic contingency by immersing it in some higher level justifying narrative.


***

That the problem of brute fact contingency will always be with us is a mathematical truism. It is conceivable, though, that for some people “scientific explanation” in the sense of providing a complete descriptive understanding of the contingent cosmic status quo will be enough to fully satiate their curiosity, perhaps to the extent that they may even regard the asking of any deeper question about “why” to be meaningless.  (cf Wittgenstein: “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent”.). But the fact is the restless and inquiring spirit of (wo)man is unlikely to be satisfied with that, as Max Tegmark, in his own eccentric way, has demonstrated. The inevitable logical hiatus left by science will always invite further imaginative speculation and revelation.

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Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Libertarian Alliance


I've perhaps picked up some prejudices toward Libertarianism from  watching its US incarnations!

Below are some comments that I added to a Facebook group in a thread about the The Libertarian Alliance,  a UK based Think Tank. These comments are my first reaction to this group. I've never really liked politics, mostly because its so messy. I've been dragged kicking and screaming into the subject as a consequence of the fundamentalist's attack on science being very much bound up with politics and the public vs. private polarization.


***

Facebook Comments

The Libertarian Alliance: Maybe they've got the wrong name, or maybe I’m confused by our “we-don’t-do-things-by-halves” cousins on the other side of the Atlantic who have given the term “libertarian” what are for me some bad associations. If the LA called themselves “The Open Solutions Alliance” I’d be interested!
There is quite a spectrum of libertarian belief about the role of government (even anarchism!), but the general theme seems to be one of diffidence toward input from central government. It is perhaps ironic that Marx believed that once private ownership was abolished the state would become unnecessary; he saw the state as the protector of the owners of the means of production; in his view central government was a capitalist creation!
When I did my “Mathematical Politics” series I tried to take a measured view on the mix between government (government=responding centrally to centralized information) and business (business=responding locally to local information). But in the end I found that I couldn't anticipate in advance what that mix should be. 
In fact I ended up coming out against principled “catch-all” solutions - that is, solutions that depend on “universals” of the form “For every A then B”. The above discussion between James and James is indicative of an endogenous complexity and open endedness that makes principled opinions that cover all cases difficult to arrive at.
Catch-all solutions are attractive but they depend on a lack of exceptions to the rule. But our reality actually throws up connections like “For every A then %B”, where because of complexity %B is some percentage and not a certainty. The solution to this problem is that humans work as “complex adaptive systems”; that is, they are designed to work post-facto in an unpredictable world by responding after the data has come in and not in advance. Except perhaps in elementary physics there is little role for proactive predictive agents but a large role for reactive agents that respond intelligently as situations develop.
In any case it is my guess that governments are here to stay. In fact they are the fundamental systems theory manifestation of the balance between the use of centralized and decentralized information that one sees in adaptive organisms. Moreover, as was seen in the days of the Iron Age hill forts, governments engendered opposing governments in a regenerative feedback loop; it ends up as a choice between governments. Basically we’re stuffed if we don’t like governments! Another point I have made before: Decentralized information leads to nonlinearity and likely chaos; the information cannot be found locally to damp this chaos. Diffidence about government is up against deep systemic issues.
Society, industrial society in particular, is a mesh of “feedback” loops e.g. inflation=>wages=>inflation…etc which very likely leads to nonlinear effects which in turn are going to give rise to the hazards of instability, chaos and power laws. Trouble is no one is selling and making an “economic stability” product that can be sold to whole societies and be selected for in a Darwinian way. This is a meta-issue that is too big for the decentralized paradigm of capitalism; there are simply not enough trials going on for a Darwinian trial and error dynamic to work. 

Clearly however, a free market is ideal for solving low level problems of demand and in fact the free market probably stimulates demand in a feedback loop. The old “command” economies fall-over at this level since their managers can never get enough information either in or out to solve the problems. In particular centralized economies can stultify technological innovation as you well know.

On the down side of free-markets is the fact that they lack the long/overall view and unleash insentient systemic effects that can be ruthless, uncaring and inhuman. Consider for example a game of chess; the two contenders are only playing at the level of the individual, seeking only their own victory; this in itself carries no guarantee that the game as whole will be exciting for viewers – it could turn out to be really flat and boring. People playing their own game are not seeing the bigger picture, by definition.
So my view is that there has to be a balance between the decentralized processes of the free markets and centralized (democratic) government management of economies, and between distributed intelligence and centralized intelligence; neither free markets nor government alone can solve all the problems.
An organism like the human body seems to also have this balance between local and global controls. Both are needed in my opinion.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Banning the Creationism vs. Science Dichotomy.

 State and Church stand together: In the UK the state church and the non-conformists can do business with one another. Here Rev Mark Tall of Norwich Central Baptist church talks with the Bishop of Norwich, Graham James. See here.

I’ve been reading reports that teaching “creationism” is to be banned in the UK’s publicly funded schools. According to UPI:
The government released a new set of funding agreements last week including clauses which specifically prohibit pseudoscience…….The funding agreement defines creationism as "any doctrine or theory which holds that natural biological processes cannot account for the history, diversity, and complexity of life on earth and therefore rejects the scientific theory of evolution," and goes on to note that this idea is rejected not only by the scientific community but most mainstream churches as well.
Strictly I’d classify myself as an “Intelligent Design creationist” (or an “IDiot” as evangelical atheist Larry Moran puts it!) but I’m certainly not a fan of the two kinds of creationism which this ban is probably targeting. These two kinds of creationism are:

ONE) The creationist “science” of the Biblical literalists who push for a 6000 year old Earth/Cosmos. These people have in effect an anti-science agenda and this agenda is all too apparent in the flawed premise concepts with which they interpret scripture; in particular the ideas of mature creation and the bogus distinction between observational and historical science. This in turn leads them to mangle well established science such as the speed of light and cosmic ages.
Relevant links:

TWO)  The creationists of the North American Intelligent Design movement who in most cases accept that the Earth and Cosmos are very old. They have, however, raised some interesting and worthy challenges to evolution. (Although I must qualify that by admitting that I'm no biologist). Nevertheless, I believe that the underlying philosophy/theology driving North American ID is flawed; for instead of using their critique of evolution as a basis for enhancing theories of natural history they have by and large opted for a god-of-the-gaps dualism whereby the black-box-intelligence of God makes good what they claim to be failings in evolutionary theory. UD poster V.J. Torley is typical of this breed. This has led them to embrace a culture that is very anti-evolutionary and anti-public-academic-establishment, perhaps even “fighting” alongside YECs and rightwing politico-fundamentalists as allies. They have mostly ended up criticizing science and seldom being constructive. However, having said that I must add that Granville Sewell has recently posted a UD entry where intelligence is acknowledged as a process with a history rather than a catch-all-black-box; this is the first time I have seen something like this, so things might be looking up! But otherwise these creationists have muffed their opportunity in my opinion.
Relevant links:
***
The big problem with both these kinds of creationism goes right back to a point I picked up from Ken Miller when I first started studying the ID movement; that is, both versions of creationism proceed with an a priori background philosophy/theology that takes for granted a God vs Nature dichotomy. The consequence is that it casts the whole question of Divine intelligence into a science vs. theology mold, inadvertently helping to reinforce the old idea of science warring against religion. Theology (and Christianity) will be harmed if this dichotomy creeps in by the back door into the UK’s schools under the guise of “creationism”. Ironically it might thereby play into the hands of evangelical secularists. So, because of this I'm for the ban myself.
***
Banning bad science and pseudo-science is one thing, but there is another aspect to this affair that is more disturbing. Right wing Christians have above average association not only with creationism (in the two senses defined above) but also with anti-taxation, anti-public domain, antigovernment and gun lobbying groups, not to mention the paranoia of the conspiracy theorists.  So perhaps not surprisingly we find the paranoiac vision of the Christian right, which is inclined to imagine malign intelligences with evil intent working behind the scenes, has a rather sinister outcome: They are starting to think about the violent overthrow of the state. Well, at least according to PZ Myers’ blog! Check out his links:
In fact we read:
I can sense right now a rebellion brewing amongst these United States, where people are ready for a hostile takeover of Washington, D.C., to preserve the American Dream for our children and grandchildren. (Republican Bobby Jindal at a conference hosted by the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a group led by Christian activist Ralph Reed)
I wonder what he means by “hostile takeover”? Now here are some guys who have quite a clear idea about just what that means:
The worrying thing is that they are probably armed to the teeth with no shortage of ammunition!

The formation of North America was triggered by a taxation dispute spurred on by a genuinely democratic vision (and based on Christianity) that traces back to the English civil war. Moreover, European migration to America was often encouraged by ideologues with a vision of setting up a mini heaven-on-Earth as they reacted by escaping interfering governments and religious persecution (God help you if you were thought of as a “heretic” in one of these "heavens-on-Earth"!).  In fact my own church, Norwich Central Baptist, was historically against the British government’s war with the American colonists; not a surprising stance given that Norwich’s Baptists had been persecuted by church and state in the seventeenth century.  The legacy of all this today is that some people in North America have still yet to grow out of the bitterness and habits of mind engendered by the conflict between the state religion and dissenters. The creationism issue is, perhaps, in part a memory of this bitterness in as much as it represents high hostility against the government funded academic establishment.

Other relevant links:
http://quantumnonlinearity.blogspot.com/2013/11/50-years-ago-kennedy-assassination.html 


Both Cameron and Obama are openly Christian, but that won't convince the hyper non-conformists who will likely see them as malign influences, perhaps even Satanic!


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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

On Pilgrimage! But no Sandwalk for me!

I’ve at last done my obligatory “pilgrimage” to Down House where the great naturalist Charles Darwin lived, worked and eventually died. Here’s the essential evidence that I was there:


My lasting impression of Down House is one of incongruity: Here, set in the idyll of an English Country Garden, surrounded by beautiful countryside, was a peaceful and largely happy home and yet Darwin, through his evolutionary theoretical filter, saw his setting as a place of continuous and endless strife:

It may be said that natural selection is daily and hourly scrutinizing, throughout the world, every variation, even the slightest; rejecting that which is bad, preserving and adding up all that is good; silently and insensibly working, wherever and whenever opportunity offers, at the improvement of each organic being in relation to its organic and inorganic conditions of life.  (Origin of Species 1859)

Search, find, reject and select! Darwin’s own poor health, and of course the death of his daughter Anna, would no doubt have help confirm his belief that life is a struggle and one that doesn't always end happily. It is also incongruous that Darwin’s ideas have led to much ideological strife, strife that Darwin himself would likely have shunned. Darwin’s diminishing personal faith over the course of his life has been well documented, although I'm left with the feeling that as a man given to restrained expression he would always have regarded out-and-out atheism with a measure of reserve; there is room for doubt about Darwin’s doubts right up until his death.

In 1860 shortly after writing the Origin of Species Wiki tells us:

In one 1860 letter to Gray, Darwin expressed his doubts about the teleological argument which claimed nature as evidence of god, though he was still inclined to vaguely believe in an impersonal God as first cause:
“With respect to the theological view of the question; this is always painful to me.— I am bewildered.– I had no intention to write atheistically. But I own that I cannot see, as plainly as others do, & as I [should] wish to do, evidence of design & beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent & omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidæ with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice. Not believing this, I see no necessity in the belief that the eye was expressly designed. On the other hand I cannot anyhow be contented to view this wonderful universe & especially the nature of man, & to conclude that everything is the result of brute force. I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with the details, whether good or bad, left to the working out of what we may call chance. Not that this notion at all satisfies me. I feel most deeply that the whole subject is too profound for the human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton.— Let each man hope & believe what he can.”

I interpret that to mean Darwin entertained an intellectual conflict over religion. This conflict was none other than the age old problem of suffering and evil: On the one hand Darwin couldn't see the work of an omnipotent loving deity in the haphazard and sometimes repugnant designs of nature and yet on the other hand this didn't sit well with an intuitive sense of the wonder of the universe and the enigma of man's conscious cognition. Darwin wonders if this conflict might be resolved by recourse to the concept of a deistical God who as "first cause" designed laws to modulate the operation of chance (A combination I refer to as Law and Disorder). But in the end he appears to throw his up hands and declare that he thinks the whole subject of ultimate origins to be beyond man’s intellect.

Thirteen years later (1873) in a letter to a correspondent at the University of Utrecht Darwin writes (See Wiki again):

I may say that the impossibility of conceiving that this grand and wondrous universe, with our conscious selves, arose through chance, seems to me the chief argument for the existence of God; but whether this is an argument of real value, I have never been able to decide. I am aware that if we admit a first cause, the mind still craves to know whence it came from and how it arose. Nor can I overlook the difficulty from the immense amount of suffering through the world. I am, also, induced to defer to a certain extent to the judgment of many able men who have fully believed in God; but here again I see how poor an argument this is. The safest conclusion seems to me to be that the whole subject is beyond the scope of man's intellect; but man can do his duty

Here we find Darwin still facing a similar intuitive contradiction: On the one had there is the wondrous universe beheld by the conscious sentience of man, facts which he feels are the chief argument for the existence of God (Although Darwin now expresses uncertainty as to the robustness of this argument). On the other hand set against this is a world full of suffering. Darwin also sees problems with the “first cause argument” for God, a view I would certainly share.  However, Darwin shows respect for those who find that they can believe, in spite his conclusion that whole issue is probably beyond the mind of man. For myself, I applaud Darwin for his self-awareness and studied detachment from the problems he faced.

In 1879 and 1882, just before his death in 1882 the same Wiki article says:

Though reticent about his religious views, in 1879 he responded that he had never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a god, and that generally "an Agnostic would be the more correct description of my state of mind."[7] He went as far as saying that [in 1882] "Science has nothing to do with Christ, except insofar as the habit of scientific research makes a man cautious in admitting evidence. For myself, I do not believe that there ever has been any revelation. As for a future life, every man must judge for himself between conflicting vague probabilities."

The same old Darwin reserve is apparent here. His view that there has never been any revelation is consistent with a deistical concept of God. Presumably by “revelation” Darwin means some kind of special revelation (such as Christ); after all, Darwin’s previous statements as quoted are evidence of an intuitive sense of God’s cosmic presence, an intuition which could be construed as a form of general revelation.

Darwin’s slow slide into unbelief gives every impression of being entirely genuine; he really can’t find it within himself to form a strong conviction about the existence of God in general and the truth of Christianity in particular. The apparent genuineness and innocence of Darwin’s encroaching disbelief conflicts with fundamentalist opinion that accuses those who don’t follow fundamentalist proprietary observances of conscious rebellion against the Truth of God.*

It is ironic that the concept of one-off-creation-deism expressed by Darwin in 1860 is in fact not so far removed from the punctuated-deism of the likes of the Intelligent Design movement expressed by, say, V J Torely. Like Torley, Darwin is a dualist in that his theology takes for granted a “natural processes” vs. “Divine intervention” dichotomy.  In this theology processes guided by law and disorder are thought to proceed all but autonomously; at least when God isn't “intervening”. The difference is that, unlike Darwin, Torley sees God coming back every now and then to do his miraculous stuff. As I've said so many times before I'm moving further and further away from this Western dualist theology which stresses God’s eminence at the expense of His immanence.

Given my doubts about Darwin’s implicit dualist theology, not to mention my reserve about his legacy, it is perhaps only appropriate that I was blocked from entering the Darwin equivalent of the holy of holies; when I tried to do Darwin’s sacred and famous Sandwalk where all Darwin pilgrims get their picture taken and where Darwin did much of his evolutionary thinking I found the way was barred:

Danger: Path closed during tree lopping

In fact one of the trees on the Sandwalk had become so dangerous that it had been cut down completely:


***
There is an ambiguity in the Genesis Eden story as to whether the Tree Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil are one and the same (See here). For fundamentalists Darwin’s Tree of Life is the Tree of Knowledge of Evilution, but for atheists it really is the Tree of Life! So, the theological ambiguity about the Tree of Life may be a rather fitting parable to ponder for our times!


Trees, it seems, can be dangerous things and a bit of drastic tree surgery on Darwin’s tree(s) might not be a bad thing! Even so, according to Mega-church Pastor Rick Warren**: “In God’s garden of grace, even broken trees bear fruit”. Time will tell.





Further photos from my “pilgrimage” can be seen here:

Footnotes:
* Some fundamentalists misread Romans 1 as a passage about atheism when in fact a more careful reading reveals that it’s about Roman idolatry. But there is a rationale behind the fundamentalist’s belief that atheists are nasty people wilfully covering up God’s existence with bad conscience: For if there were such a thing as an innocent and genuine atheism that in itself would not justify the automatic entry of atheists into eternal torment. But in fundamentalism's view atheism is a sign of a wilful sinful state that is enough to qualify for hell; therefore fundamentalists are likely to see atheists as people of bad conscience.



** Rick Warren is not popular amongst fundamentalists.

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Tuesday, June 03, 2014

The Melencolia I Manifesto. Part 2

(See here for Part 1)
Human beings are complex adaptive systems and as such they have imaginations that can generate endless novelty to the extent that it matches the novelty they see around them.

(Note: Addendum below  added on 12/06/14)

In this post on Uncommon Descent IDist Granville Sewell links to one of his YouTube talks and says this about it:

I want to focus here on the second part, beginning at the 19:40 mark, which discusses the remarkable similarities between the evolution of life and the evolution of human technology……… Some people do not like the comparison, because (1) it may seem to bring God’s design down to the level of human design, and (2) they may say that Genesis 1 does paint a picture of creation by magic wand. With regard to (1), I would say that it does not bring God down to our level, because the things God has designed are so much more advanced than the things we design, but a designer must always get involved in the details of his design, no matter how intelligent he may be. And with regard to (2), although of course Genesis 1 is not an accurate scientific account of creation, even here we see a God who created one type of animal, “saw that it was good,” and proceeded to improve on it; that sounds a lot like the way we create things, though testing and improvements. And if all God had to do to create species was to wave a wand, why does the Bible say that on the seventh day, God “rested from all the work of creating that he had done”?

For me this development on UD is extremely interesting on at least two counts: Firstly, I also don’t believe in creation by magic wand. Secondly, thoughts like this are not entirely new to Uncommon Descent. In fact in March 2008 I broached a similar subject in one of UD’s discussion threads, a thread which can be seen here:
My comments to this thread and those who responded to me (Paul Giem, Gpuccio and Jerry) can be downloaded from here (See the “file” drop down). My first comment wasn’t understood (probably because I hadn’t made myself clear enough) and this was compounded by a tendency for UD’s ID interlocutors to assume that any challenges to their position comes from straight evolutionists, “materialists”, “naturalists” or atheists; in fact YEC Paul Giem seemed to think I was arguing from an atheist position – he refers to “your naturalistic friends”.  However, I must add that on the whole I have found the UD people, whether Old Earth or Young Earth, to be nice intelligent people who aren't in the “heretic burning” mould; it is probably that which sets them apart from the stricter fundies whose personalities favour stick rather than carrot. However, UD fans are going to listen to Sewell as if he is saying something completely new; after all, he’s one of their gurus and, moreover, they are likely to have a "not invented here" attitude.

In May 2009 I made a shorter but similar comment on this UD post:
This comment I reproduce below:

Timothy V Reeves 05/16/2009 9:23 am
I enjoyed the song but “One piece at a time” may not be so far from the mark.
The wheel, the wheeled chassis, the leaf spring, glass, various electromagnetic devices, pistoned heat engines, bulbs, not to mention agriculture, cities and writing which set the social base for industrialization etc, were all invented/discovered without the car being conceived or envisaged as a goal. This example sets the precedent for a form of reducible complexity at least to an extent which allows limited human intelligence to make advances with a piece meal divide and conquer strategy, and achieve results beyond that available to a single act of inventive foresight and goal formulation.
The artifacts generated by human culture must form islands of innovation in “configuration space” sufficiently close together to unable limited human intelligence and prescience (let’s represent that by “i”) to jump the gaps between these islands of functionality.
Now I would not be so brazen as to suggest that “i” could be reduced to zero and hey presto you have mindless, goalless evolution (I realize there are lots of robust challenges to that, thanks to you excellent folk), but the human technological model does indicate that limited foresight and goal perception can generate functionality beyond itself if some measure of reducible complexity holds in “technological morphospace”. If this were not so then human technological progress, with its ability to create unforeseen, unimaginable artifacts well beyond single quantum flashes of inventive genius will come to a standstill, limited by its ability to see ahead and formulate goals. Such is the Creator’s grace bestowed upon finitely endowed humanity.

***

So what are my conclusions here?  Whenever I have looked at the North American ID community’s concept of intelligence it has always come over as a “black box” notion of intelligence – that is, as an inscrutable ancillary agent of causation that stands a dichotomy apart from so-called “natural processes”,  an agent invoked when we can’t think how “law and disorder” processes have generated a pattern. At least Sewell is, as far as I can tell, starting to look into that black box; at last someone on UD is hinting that intelligence is a process and in fact a process that looks a little like evolution itself! It is this immanent aspect of intelligence that is the subject of my current researches. Below I list the salient areas of this research. The following is my broad brush manifesto: of this research.


1. Intelligence is not a highly located phenomenon and least of all is it something precisely focused in a small black box. Rather, intelligence is a distributed phenomenon that cannot be identified in low level parts but only at the high system level. The low level parts are, however, essential component contributors by way of their mutual configuration. Therefore intelligence is both immanent as well as eminent to any local sub-system.

2. Intelligent problem solving activity has a common structure that constitutes a very general heuristic of intelligent action; namely, search, find, reject and select.

3. In a search, find, reject and select computation there may be a separation between explicit outputs and implicit computations between outputs. It is this difference between hidden background processing and ostensive foreground results that can convey the wrong impression that intelligence isn’t a process and that it somehow arrives at results by magic wand.

4. Searches can be enhanced with mathematical constraints in order to improve speed of result.

5. Searches can be enhanced with expanding parallelism to improve speed of result.

6. Points 3 to 5 have isomorphisms with quantum physics leading me to speculate that the universe has a declarative computational structure involving constraints guiding a Search and Find process.

7. Randomness is not an event but a class of pattern that has certain mathematical properties in terms of its statistical form and its intractability to algorithmic generation. These kinds of patterns have an important status in the search for life; for if life’s configurations can only be expressed in compressed form as random patterns then it follows that the ordinary parallel processing of standard evolution will not find life in realistic times.

8. In our universe with its declarative computational structure - that is, it is a highly constrained search - there is no such thing as “random and unguided” processes; the guiding hand of constraint is ever present and operative.


9. My overall working assumption is the strong anthropic principle;  that is, the cosmos is contrived to find life.

The above manifesto may well be a flight of the imagination; in fact it probably is, but it's my best shot (hence comic sans). But one thing is clear: The following statement by PZ Myers is typical of a failure to appreciate the miracle of evolution: 

Darwin’s great insight was that you don’t need an overseer guiding evolution — that local responses to the environment will produce efficient responses that will yield a pattern of descent and diversity and complexity. To replace “intent was unnecessary” with “God provided intent” does deep violence to the whole theory, and completely misses the point.*

Any process that has generated life as quickly as has the cosmic process is certainly “guided” in the sense that it must be highly constrained and/or employs the methods of expanding parallelism. We might speculate that there must be some “meta-explanation” for this state of affairs, but such an “explanation” could only employ yet more mathematics of “law and disorder” and in effect we would simply be embarking on a “Turtles all the way down” regress; or as it is expressed in its usual modern form “multiverses all the way up”! Science may be less about "explaining stuff" than it is understanding and describing the status quo.

Footnote
* See Myer's post "How to argue for evolution" dated 20 May

Relevant link:
http://quantumnonlinearity.blogspot.co.uk/2009/11/from-spears-to-jet-fighters.html  



Addendum 12/06/2014

In a blog post entitled Multi-component, schmulti-component and dated 10 June I was interested to note that PZ Myers has latched on to this parallel processing idea:

Evolution isn’t sequential. It’s massively parallel. Massively. Humans have about 20,000 genes, and all of them are evolving at once, with trial runs in about 7 billion individuals.

To me, that still classifies as ordinary sequential processing, as it simply involves adding more sequential processors. Unless somehow physical constraints sufficiently narrow down the search space a priori, up front (which is possible I suppose) a "small" parallel processor is not going to find those viable self-perpetuating, self maintaining organic survival solutions. Unless these highly constricting physical constraints exist, adding processors whose count is measured in only a few tens of digits (that's what I mean by "small") is utterly inadequate. After all, the search space has dimensions measured in millions if not billions of digits. PZ Myers intuitions about the adequacy of a parallel processor are far wide of mark. 

I said "expanding parallelism," a method that creates far more trials; if somehow quantum expanding parallelism can be exploited we're there. But either way Myers has an a-priori brute-fact issue; either hugely constricting constraints and/or huge numbers of trials facilitated by some kind of expanding parallelism. I'm putting my money on the latter, although the former is a possibility.

Consider also this: 

Evolution is not teleological. An organ like the eye is not being assembled to a set of specific, detailed instructions — it just has to work, or the organism is at a disadvantage to other organisms with better eyes. So a hodge-podge of solutions is accumulated, and the end result has all kinds of complexity. But you don’t get to argue after the fact that the details imply some specificity of purpose.
For example, here’s a number: 343767. It’s kind of big, you might be tempted to argue that it’s a fancier or more complex number than, say, 300000 (you’d be wrong), or you might want to argue for the significance of individual digits, or find a pattern in it. Humans tend to do that. But the reality is that I just went to a random number service and asked for a 6 digit number. Similarly, eyes wandered through a random space constrained by functional requirements and ended up at a somewhat arbitrarily complex configuration — and different lineages followed different paths.

Fair enough; the only requirement for an organism is that it has self-perpetuating/self maintaining stability given its particular environment; that's likely to lead to "hodge-podge solutions". But a cosmic generating system that is not prepared a-priori via expanding parallelism and/or up front constraints simply isn't going to find even hodge-podge solutions! Those stable organic "potential wells" in which the seeking fingers of quantum signals eventually accumulate are lost in a space unimaginably large - by comparison the visible universe is absolutely tiny!

Tough luck PZ; the cosmic "search algorithm/hardware" looks highly a-priori and anthropic to me!

Relevant Link:


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