Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Trump starts to dump his extremist supporters


Trump's Alt Right Storm Troopers - dumped.


As the dust begins to settle after the political pantomime that was the American election, the big question here at Quantum Non-Linearity is this: Will Trump mellow and eventually settle down to be a more measured and reasonable mainstream president than the promise of his campaign? Of course, this may well be wishful thinking on my part. The recent scenes at the above Alt-Right rally where Trump supporters call out "Hail Trump" and give Nazi salutes (see above) has horrified many people. It is easy to see this rally as evidence that our worse fears of an impending fascist nightmare are starting to take shape. However, I try to keep a track of the news and watch how things are developing: Here are some relevant links:

According to this BBC news item Trump disavows the Alt-Right

But here's a quote from Wiki on "Breibart news". This links the Alt Right via Breibart News to Trump's chief strategist Stephen Bannon. 

[Breibart News was] conceived by Andrew Breitbart during a visit to Israel in summer 2007, with the aim of founding a site "that would be unapologetically pro-freedom and pro-Israel" Breitbart later aligned with the European populist right and American alt-right under Bannon's management and Bannon declared the site "the platform for the alt-right" in 2016. The New York Times describes Breitbart News as a "curiosity of the fringe right wing", with "ideologically driven journalists", that is a source of controversy "over material that has been called misogynist, xenophobic and racist", and was a "potent voice" for Donald Trump's presidential campaign.

Here's some more background on Breibart:


How's Trump going to explain all that? But then Trump isn't an idealist; I read him as the sort of guy who is unlikely to be bothered by theoretical consistency and nuance; he's first and foremost a showman who primarily deals in spectacle and theatre.

Trump's attack on his worshipful Alt-Right supporters smacks a just little bit of Hitler's night of the long knives:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Night_of_the_Long_Knives

The Alt Right are no longer any use to Trump! Another parallel is that Hitler exploited the German Christian taste for law and order, but underneath he regarded them with contempt.

Reports are surfacing of a softening of Trump's climate change position:

http://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/world/trump-hints-at-re-think-on-climate-change/ar-AAkEfv3?li=BBoPWjQ&ocid=UP97DHP

...add to this the great disappointment of some of Trump's vindictive followers that he's not going to pursue Hillary Clinton with charges of corruption. Is Trump becoming part of the empowered establishment already?

Trump's anti-idealistic pragmatism may well save us from the idealistic nightmares of fascist and evangelical fundamentalism. Perhaps the uncompromising fascist, libertarian and Christian evangelico-fundamentalists who voted for Trump are already getting their just deserts for their misplaced trust in Trump to implement their extremist views; They should have realised that they couldn't put their trust in Trump's promises. There's poetic justice here: Some of those Christian fundies are now finding themselves in bed with ruthless atheistic social Darwinian "libertarians"!

However, it's early days yet and it's a great trumptation to see light at the end of the tunnel when it's not actually there; there is still plenty of time for things to get a lot worse - see the following joker in the pack: Trump and Biff Tannon:
http://www.msn.com/en-gb/entertainment/movies/christopher-lloyd-stunned-by-back-to-the-futures-trump-prediction/ar-AAkzfyo?li=BBoPWjQ&ocid=UP97DHP


NOTES:
See this link on Breitbart which is entitled "Vanity Fair: Trump succeeded because of Breitbart"

http://www.breitbart.com/big-journalism/2016/11/23/vanity-fair-trump-succeeded-breitbart/

But set against the claims of that article are these articles by right-wing Trump supporter Denyse O'leary:

http://www.uncommondescent.com/darwinism/the-alt-right-popular-media-and-darwin/
https://www.mercatornet.com/features/view/the-alt-right-donald-trump-and-oddly-enough-darwin/19049

O'Leary's article, of course, denies the link between Trump and  Breitbart:

The term “alt right” is thrown around a lot these days to account for Donald Trump’s winning the U.S. presidency. Mainstream media, blindsided by results they should have been able to predict, are deflecting blame. Many conjure a vast, shadowy, menacing group that propelled Trump to power in hidden ways. A more accurate story is more complex—and far more of a problem for the generic worldview of current mainstream media.

O'Leary is probably right about the reality being more complex. Also notable in O'leary are the comments about the link between the Alt-Right and "Darwinism". The ironies are coming in thick and fast!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Michio Kaku argues for Intelligent Design**


Michio: "I recently had a thought that was this big!!"
You can say that again! See below:

Physicist and popular science commentator Michio Kaku's thoughts about  the cosmos probably come in too thick and fast for most us. As a string theorist he's no doubt on the top shelve as far as cleverness is concerned...... he's just too bright; doesn't it make you spit! But to be fair we've all got our faults and no doubt Michio was born with this annoying trait. He does have some redeeming points, however: He's very ambitious in his vision, wanting to embrace the whole of reality with his intellect and yet he gives every impression of being tentative, creative, tolerant, courageous and magnanimous; I like him; the honourable traditions of the Japanese Samurai knights must be part of his background. 

The reason for this blog post is this article which appeared on "Intellectual TakeOut". It quotes Kaku as recently saying: 

“I have concluded that we are in a world made by rules created by an intelligence,” Kaku said, as quoted by the Geophilosophical Association of Anthropological and Cultural Studies. “To me it is clear that we exist in a plan which is governed by rules that were created, shaped by a universal intelligence and not by chance.”.

“The final solution resolution could be that God is a mathematician,” says Kaku. “The mind of God, we believe, is cosmic music. The music of strings resonating through 11-dimensional hyperspace.”  

I know 2% of next-to-nowt about string theory so I can't comment on the technicalities here. But I can say that it's a  privilege to have Michio as a fellow pilgrim! As I said at the end of this so-called "book" of mine:

The general lesson of this book is that maximally disordered distributions entail distributions of properties and states that are as evenly and uniformly spread as the constraints allow. That is, maximum disorder doesn’t favour or target any particular state/property consistent with the constraints. So, in a scenario of maximum disorder everything gets as equal treatment as possible and no skew is shown toward particular states/properties. In a random cosmos nothing appears to be singled out for a frequency above random expectation and this is likely to register in the human mind as evidence of indifference and impersonality;  a cosmos without anthropic meaning and purpose, one where intelligence, particularly personal intelligence, is not a final and  sovereign arbiter. A sovereign intelligence, it is felt, would show a much more anthropically recognizable bias; the antithesis of this sends chills down the back of theists, many of whom are accustomed to the concept of God as a highly personal intelligence and who is likely to show a preference for configurations of anthropic significance.

Conversely, those who have put their intellectual stakes in the idea that the cosmos points to no controlling intelligence, let alone personal intelligence, are likely to find it easier to accept that ultimately randomness is sovereign; although the question of “why is there something rather than nothing?” is still outstanding here. But, the fact remains; our slice of the cosmos is far from random. We would not expect an anthropic selection effect to persist for any length of time in a truly random cosmos. Moreover, our cosmos has singled out small space short time algorithms as a means of describing much of its operation. There is something peculiar about our cosmos, something very peculiar. 

Relevant Link:
http://quantumnonlinearity.blogspot.co.uk/2007/02/time-travel.html

Footnote:
** Caution: I am, of course, not talking about the IDists of Uncommon Descent and other Christians who swing toward an embattled fundamentalism. Kaku is more likely to fit into the John Polkinghorne mold. 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Extreme Trumptation

In due course, after the dust has settled a bit, I might do a post on the Trump election victory. However, in the meantime I found the following to be of interest. PZ Myers had this comment posted on his blog by some unknown  mischievous visitor: 

Now there's a guy who feels pleased with himself!

It’s about time you fucking cucks got your just desserts. Cunts, niggers, spics, gooks, kikes, fags and sandniggers were never meant to have a say in our great country. Several hundreds of years ago the greatest men to walk the earth (excluding Trump but I’ll get to that soon), the Founding Fathers, made this country great by killing off most of the natives and bringing in niggers as subordinates. Fast forward to now and we live in a degenerate society where niggers are free, the injuns (sorry, NATIVE AMERICANS) still exist and women can vote as well as have sex outside of wedlock. Well Trump has finally come along to change all of that. Now it’s obvious that he’s going to eradicate all the non-whites in America and make women mandatory sex slaves (the attractive ones that is, the ugly/fat ones will obviously be killed) but the important questions are the following. 1) How will we get Trump get elected 4 years from now. 2) How can we alter the Constitution so that Trump can have more terms as president. And finally, 3) When will Trump eradicate all the non-whites outside of America? We have nukes boys, it’s finally time to use them.

After looking up some of those words I realised that this correspondent has touched just about all the politically incorrect G-spots which are bound to cause every one left of Vlad the Impaler to ejaculate with horror! The only subjects he's (and he's bound to be male) missed are climate change and anti-vaxing!  Most likely it is a piece of tongue-in-cheek provocation, although it is quite likely from a Trump supporter because only a Trump supporter could construct such an offensive passage and then use it to cause offense. I personally suspect someone from one of the atheist "alpha male" groups that PZ has been at logger heads with; either that or perhaps a "false flag operation" in order to discredit Trump - although I feel the latter to be unlikely, as the whole thing looks as though it is designed to get up PZ's nose.

Prof Myers introduces it with the words: 

You know I filter the comments here and have a fairly extensive block list — it’s necessary. Especially now. You wouldn’t believe the crap people are trying to post here now, emboldened by this recent election. I’ll just put one particularly ugly example from someone calling himself sinceretrumpsupporter  below the fold. You might want to skip it. I find it useful to remind myself from time to time what we’re fighting…..Please don’t bother telling me Not All Trump Supporters. I don’t care. This is the filth dragged in with him.

So, signs are then that PZ thinks it's genuine!  In PZ's comment thread someone brings up Poe's law and points out that uncertainty over whether this is a parody or not is actually evidence that this kind of extremism is quite within the range of some Trump supporters, otherwise we would know for certain that it was hoax! Therefore, even if this is a piece of cynical insincere trolling it points to sincerity and sentiment that can be actually be found somewhere among Trump's fasco-fundamentalist idealist supporters! Fact is, knowing what we do about the Trump demographic we just cannot put this kind of extremism past some Trump supporters, just as we cannot put the most weird conspiracy ideas past Christian fundamentalists. 

I have to confess, however, that I couldn't help seeing the funny side of it. The writer seems to know just what's going to rile PZ Myers and his readers and has gone out of his way to cause the greatest possible recoil of horror! The whole affair is reality based black humour which taps into that rich seam of funny man vs straight man pairings one often finds in comedy.

Some Links:
Trump picks his team:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-38027519
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-38030602
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-37999969

And then there is this:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-38032421
What? Lord Farage? Sir Nigel? I don't think that's going to roll of my tongue with ease!

Trump settles fraud case out of court
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-38021820
Some extracts from this article:

The US president-elect was being sued by former students who paid $35,000 (£28,000) for real estate "secrets" from his "hand-picked" instructors.
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement: "Today's $25 million [£20m] settlement agreement is a stunning reversal by Donald Trump and a major victory for the over 6,000 victims of his fraudulent university.
"The victims of Trump University have waited years for today's result and I am pleased that their patience - and persistence - will be rewarded by this $25 million settlement."
Mr Schneiderman, who Mr Trump has attacked as a "lightweight", had sought a $40m (£32m) payout from Mr Trump over the university, which closed in 2010.
He called Trump University a "fraud from beginning to end" in July, adding that the organisation used "false promises to prey on desperate people".
Trump University promised students the opportunity to learn from "hand-picked" teachers, that actually were not chosen by Mr Trump himself.
The closest students ever got to the real estate mogul was having their photo taken beside a cardboard cutout of him, Mr Schneiderman has alleged. He also said that Mr Trump personally pocketed about $5m (£4m) in the "scheme".

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Northumberland: Myth and Imagination - Part 3

(See here and here for parts 1 and 2)

The people who built Duddo stone circle (above) were probably working to some worldview but we have only vague ideas about what that perspective was. Humanity has always been challenged with the task of making comprehensive worldview level sense of its environment; but epistemic problems have impeded success and gaps have been filled with intolerance and dogma. But as we see below the error of fundamentalist scripturallism is not the answer to those epistemic difficulties - far from it!


Some solutions ameliorate one problem only to introduce another. An example is sickle cell hemoglobin which helps suppress the symptoms of malaria but increases the risk of sickle cell anemia. In circumstances like this there is tension between the advantages and disadvantages of alternative outcomes as they are weighed against one another and some trade-off settled for. There is, I believe, a tension of this type in the epistemic heuristic inherent in the mental make up of human beings.

Human beings, it hardly need be said, are in the main social animals and this confronts them with one of their greatest epistemic challenges; that is, attempting to interpret the output of the most complex object known to man, namely the human mind. But the task of trying to read other minds is carried out routinely on the hoof and is a highly informal process. No doubt we have large packages of both soft and firm cognitive neural-ware which address this problem, particularly in the realm of reading the meaning of language. Human beings offer few observational clues as to what they are thinking even when they use language to express themselves. Hence, in this connection  human epistemic techniques have to join a paucity of evidential data-dots in order to arrive at highly complex conclusions about fellow humans. The epistemic process of predicting the otherwise hidden complexities of the human mind is likely to be very seat-of-the-pants. It is a miracle, however, that the process of mutual understanding works as well as it does, but there is a likely trade-off: The gains of getting it right outweigh the losses of making occasional (perhaps even frequent) mistakes. So it is likely that our neural-ware interpreter is balanced between the huge advantages of correctly understanding fellow human beings and an inevitable background noise of error. This human epistemic system is tuned on a knife edge and it's no surprise that in some individuals the inter-human neural package seems to malfunction badly: Autistics tend to under-interpret incoming data and paranoiacs over interpret it.

It is something akin to this very high risk neural-ware package which, I propose, is in operation during worldview synthesis. Unlike formal science which proceeds at a snails pace starting with basic and relatively simple systems and tries to build from the bottom up (see Brian Cox's comments here), worldview synthesis much more resembles the task of attempting to see behind the scenes into the human mind; this comprehensive epistemic process takes in a huge sweep of life experience as it tries to affirm very broad conclusions using methods that are informal and themselves often nigh on inscrutable. Highly ambitions conclusions, sometimes bordering on pretension and audacity, are arrived at. Worldview synthesis leaps well-ahead of formal science in ambition and vision, but the trade-off is that the risks of error, error often exacerbated by hubris, vested interest and tribal factors to name but a few perturbing influences, are balanced against the promise of an epistemic gold-mine. But let me point out the irony I've noted before; it is in fact an empirically based process in as much as it attempts to join the dots of experiential data, albeit rather creatively (See links below). In short  the whole system of worldview synthesis isn't a robust process!

However, we can but try. I'm the last person to condemn attempts at sweeping worldview synthesis; if we are looking for comprehensive understandings of the world we may have little choice but to engage in this activity along with its risks; it might produce high gains in the long run. The trick, I believe, is not to do away with the mythological imagination but to be aware of its operation and above all to use it with a good measure of cautious epistemic humility in order to avoid the pitfalls of misplaced hubris and arrogant certainty. But in spite of worldview synthesis being so seat-of-the-pants it is ironic that the mythological imagination is inclined to invest in its highly attenuated constructions far more certainty than they warrant; in fact it is almost as if these constructions become more real than the basic perceptions on which they are built. Pathological examples are easy to find: the Flat Earth conspiracy, David Ike's lizard conspiracy, Alex Jones' conspiracy theories, numerous Christian fundamentalist world views, Jones Town, and fascism. It is the certainty and blinkered single mindedness with which world-views may be held that gives them the potential to be highly dangerous; much more dangerous might I add than even the problems introduced by the unbridled ambitions of status-seeking. The latter is unlikely to be so sweeping as to attempt to assimilate the whole cosmic coboodle into one seamless narrative: The realpolitik of self-centred status seeking has a limited horizon and a limited agenda in its striving for hegemony, whereas mythological fundamentalism seeks a much more thoroughgoing world take-over; one that includes the very hearts and minds of those it seeks to dominate.

In modern times scriptural fundamentalism (a subject which concerns me deeply) believes it can eliminate epistemic risk with a simple formula; Viz: God's Word says so & so, therefore so & so is absolutely certain to be true.  But this epistemic has a very serious flaw: It fails to take into account that the natural language in which scripture is couched is far from being a direct revelation of truth. (See here, and here). As I have repeatedly made the case, natural language works by connotation and as such its interpretation taps into to a bottomless reservoir of facts taken from of human social history and the human context in general. Scripture can not be read like a mathematical text book where formality strives to obviate ambiguity and limit terms of reference; reading scripture is far more akin to the process of interpreting the natural linguistic output of other minds. Scriptural fundamentalists seek the security of certainty and authority; they cannot accept that there is a huge fallible human link in the chain when it comes to interpreting scripture. This fallible link is evidenced by the many contradictory forms that fundamentalism can take. See herehere and here.

Selfish human ambitions which seek after high status without regard to the welfare of society as a whole are potentially toxic, but things can be worse. The empires of status seekers are not quite so comprehensive as the ambitions of fundamentalist idealists who seek a mental empire of believers which they wish to draw in and submit to the narrative constructed in fundamentalist minds. So, on balance I fear the dogmatic worldview builders more than those with plain and simple social status ambitions and whose scope of operation is likely to only go as far as realpolitik. 

Human beings have an incredible ability to read imaginatively behind the scenes; we only have think of theoretical geniuses like Newton and Einstein who have scored big in this area. But against that we must set the many whose theories have failed and been forgotten (which probably includes my own!). The theoretical imagination, especially when extended to vagaries of worldview synthesis, comes with risks.  This is not to say we should avoid braving the deep waters of worldview synthesis - far from it - we just need to proceed with a little cautious epistemic humility - that and a little faith. We work out our salvation with fear and trembling.

Epistemology links: 
http://quantumnonlinearity.blogspot.co.uk/2016/09/epistemic-notes_14.html
http://quantumnonlinearity.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/the-great-epistemic-tradeoff.html

More pictures from Northumberland

The rain shrouded and ancient Cheviot hills convey a mood apposite to the mysteries of the meaning of creation.

To the uninitiated the highly asymmetrical ruins of Lindisfarne priory would present a mystery as deep as Duddo stone circle.

Weathering of the stones of the priory has created forms just as fantastic as the stones at Duddo.

The view from Ford church; It conjures up thoughts of ancient origins, beauty, light, colour and the truncation of death. These thoughts mingle, prompting the  feeling it must all mean something, thereby fueling the mythological imagination. 

To the unknown god: A flower offering (?)  found in one of the erosion channels of the Duddo stones. The offering instinct goes deep. 

This isn't Northumberland but the Chinese "shrine" at Kew Gardens, where the floor has become covered in coin "offerings". Ornamental ponds often attract the same behavior. What's at the bottom of these token "offerings"?  Is it carried out instinctively or is it done with the conscious intention of  hedging bets and attempting a communion with unknown spiritual forces?

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Nature vs. God. The 2nd law of Thermodynamics and Philosophical Dualism

As a motif for the force of nature, feelings about the
green man are ambivalent and  confused. But he lurks
 in the  subliminal pagan recesses of Western thinking.
http://www.greenmanenigma.com/theories.html
This post explores the God vs. Nature dualism that is endemic to much of Western thinking. To illustrate this I use as an example a post by Christian fundamentalist Danny Faulkner who writes articles for Answers in Genesis. In the twin article of this current blog post I approved of YEC Jonathan Sarfati’s treatment of the second law of thermodynamics; Sarfati advised YECs not to use it to challenge evolution. Unfortunately I can’t give a similar recommendation to Ken Ham’s tame astronomer Danny Faulkner. His article on the subject can be found here: hxxps://answersingenesis.org/physics/second-law-of-thermodynamics/



Nearly half of Faulkner’s article is his attempt to explain the second law of thermodynamics to his lay audience.  We have to get about half way into the article before Faulkner starts to betray his failure to grasp the nuances of this topic.  So far I haven't been impressed by this fellow's performance; he seems to lack intellectual incisiveness. (See here and here). But the tame scholars at Answers in Genesis are not there to convince those with an adequate grasp of science, rather to impress a lay audience of fundamentalists (which includes Faulkner’s boss Ken Ham) with the letters after their names and technical sounding arguments.





***
 Tame scholar Danny Faulkner and his AiG boss, YEC theme park manager Ken Ham.
Below I use the usual format of taking quotes from Faulkner's article followed by my own comments:

If disorder cannot decrease, then order cannot increase. It is this version of the second law of thermodynamics that leads to discussion of the naturalistic origin of life and biological evolution. Living organisms obviously are highly ordered systems, far more ordered than non-living things. The naturalistic origin of life would require that non-living things gave rise to living things, which would amount to an increase in order and thus would appear to violate the second law of thermodynamics. Furthermore, biological evolution would be the development of life over time, which involves increasing order, which also appears to violate the second law of thermodynamics. (My emphases)

MY COMMENT:  The first sentence here is misleading: The second law of thermodynamics tells us that global order cannot increase, but it does not prohibit increases in local order as we shall see. Entropy is an extensive property of matter not an intensive property; that is, it refers to a value integrated over an isolated region and is therefore not a differential law. 

As we can see from the above quote Faulkner is locked into the natural forces vs. God dichotomy. For Faulkner the idea that the cosmos generated living things from non-living matter is a necessary condition for a “naturalistic” origin of life and is likely to be viewed by him as dangerously subversive of his faith. This taboo exists because in Western dualist thinking profane “natural forces” are set over and against sacred divine activity. The subliminal thinking is something like this: “If nature did it then that means God didn’t do it. Therefore if nature did it faith is compromised”. The scenario of “molecules-to-man-evolution” is perceived, to quote Faulkner, as a requirement for the Naturalistic origin of life. For the YEC fundie this subversive concept must be opposed at all costs. Fundamentalists may use the cover rationalisation that they are simply following their literal interpretation of the Bible, but I propose that this is just a proximate cause – the real underlying cause is their philosophical acceptance of Western culture’s God vs nature dualism.  This dualism is enshrined in de facto Intelligent Design’s explanatory filter.

However, notice that Faulkner hedges his bets: He says that the emergence of life appears to violate the second law of thermodynamics; he doesn’t say that it actually violates the second law. Faulkner is bright enough to know that he can’t provide any rigorous proof of a contradiction between the second law and evolution.

Faulkner goes on to talk about open systems:

However, merely being an open system does not automatically mean that entropy decreases. Life depends upon a huge number of complex biochemical reactions continually operating. These biochemical reactions operate opposite to the direction that they would naturally proceed. That is, living things synthesize simpler molecules into more complex ones. The inputs are matter (the less complex molecules) and energy (required to bond the more complex molecules), which is why living things are open systems. However, these inputs are insufficient in themselves to circumvent the second law of thermodynamics. The direction of the chemical reactions normally is decay from the more complex to simpler molecules, the opposite of what living things require to exist. How do they do this? Living things have complex machinery in the form of organelles (within cells) and structures such as tissue, organs, and systems (in the case of multi-celled organisms that convert matter and energy into the complex molecules required for life). Ultimately, the construction and operation of these machines is regulated by DNA, also included within cells. Both the physical machinery and the coded instructions represented a tremendous amount of order within living things. Some people call this order information. How could this order or information come about naturally?

MY COMMENT:  Faulkner ought to have qualified that first sentence. It really should have read:

However, merely being an open system does not automatically mean that entropy decreases locally.

This sloppy expression by Faulkner seems to be an outcome of him failing make it clear that entropy is an extensive rather than intensive variable.  An open system interacts with its environment which immediately invalidates the statement of the second law which pertains to isolated systems only.  This means it is then conceivable that a open system could undergo a decrease in entropy local to that system. But as Faulkner has tried to tell us above openness doesn't guarantee a local increase in order, it only makes it possible. However, there are open systems where there is a local increase in order e.g life.

Living structures are open systems. Their processes of growth and replication entail considerable increases in local order. That the processes of growth and replication decrease the entropy locally is not, of course, a violation of the second law, for if one demarks a sufficiently large boundary to isolate the living system and its environment one finds that globally there is an overall increase in entropy; that is, the local increases in order wrought by the activities of life are purchased at the price of increases in disorder elsewhere. Life achieves these natural local entropy decreases, as Faulkner admits, as a product of the natural biological machinery it has on board. But Faulkner has said nothing of the significance of this: Most dualists who are not vitalists would identify the processes of life as natural activities and these natural activities, as Faulkner admits, bring about local increases in order without globally violating the second law. Faulkner has avoided explicitly stating that the local increases in order are achieved by life using what most dualists would refer to as natural means.

Of course, current science tells us that the ability of life to increase local order comes about as a result of the implicit information present in the machinery of life. But that sets up a potential taboo for the Genesis literalists: For if this local order enhancing information can be present in life then it is conceivable that the information needed to generate life in the first place is implicit in our physical regime. i,e, in nature.  But this thought may trigger a "Pagan Green Man" alert in the fundamentalist mind.

Even Genesis literalists must be able to comprehend that a God who is capable of  downloading sufficient upfront information into living structures to enable them to naturally increase local order might go a step back and front load the requisite information, by other means, into the physical regime. If such was present then just as life is able to bring about the local reverse entropy “miracle” of growth and replication, so it is alternatively conceivable that a divinely ordained physical regime might contain the information to bring about the local decreases in entropy needed for emergent life and yet without any violation in the global law of overall entropy increase. This possibility is not acknowledged by Faulkner in spite of his effective admission that life is able to bring about local increases in order by "natural" means; for example, whenever a child is born it is evidence that a “molecules-to-man” miracle has taken place! However, if the cosmos has generated life from non-life it raises an outstanding question: If life has been generated by the cosmic system where is the requisite front loaded information?  More about that later.

Self-organization describes an orderly arrangement that occasionally appears to arise in matter spontaneously. A crystal is the best example of this. For instance, salt dissolved in water can form into crystals, an orderly array of units of sodium chloride. However, there are at least two problems with this analogy to living things. First, the salt + water system is an open system. It can and does exchange energy and matter with its surroundings in order to precipitate salt crystals. That is, salt crystals do not spontaneously form from a salt water solution. Second, crystals are simply ordered sequences which contain very little actual information. Salt crystals lack specified complexity, i.e., their structure is caused by the properties of their constituent parts and not imposed by some outside intelligent process as is the case for living organisms.

MY COMMENT: Faulkner’s first point: If evolution has occurred then it is properly envisaged as an open system which, like crystal formation, exchanges matter and energy with the environment. Therefore if the physical regime of Earth has generated life from non living matter then in this sense it would be analogous to the salt water system, contrary to what Faulkner claims. But the meaning of Faulkner’s use of the term “spontaneous” here is problematic. The growth of crystalline structures entails regions of increasing local order because transcendent physical laws act as envelopes of constraint on the random motions of particles. If the Earth has generated life in analogy to the way crystals form it could only do so if the physical regime supplies the requisite information in the form of constraining envelopes of possibility. According to the way Faulkner is using the word “spontaneously” such a process would not then classify as “spontaneous”.  I can only think that what Faulkner means by “spontaneous” formation is if a system somehow “magically” generates the configurations of life without the requisite up front information being implicit in the physical regime. As William Dembski’s work has shown this is a silly idea. But just who is claiming that evolution is a “spontaneous” process in the sense of Faulkner’s meaning of the term? I don’t think any scientist with their heads screwed on properly would subscribe to this straw man version of evolution whereby life is thought to emerge from a system without some constraining physical regime embodying the requisite information.

Faulkner’s second point is as equally confused; this confusion results because he doesn’t resolve out the different meanings of the term “information”. Let us start by taking its Shannon meaning, i.e.  –log(p) where p is the probability of an event. The conditional probability of salt formation given our physical regime is high and therefore as far as conditional probability is concerned the Shannon information of salt crystallisation is low. But the absolute probability of crystal formation is minute: Given the whole space of possible configurations highly ordered crystalline structures are a tiny class and thus their probability as a class is negligible. This negligible probability means that a high information value is associated with the absolute probability of crystalline structures. However, if we understand “information” in terms of data compressibility then it follows that crystal structures, whose data content is highly compressible, contain little irreducible information. Of course, living things having much more variety of structure are therefore far less compressible and correspondingly carry much more information in this sense. But then using the word “information” in the same sense it follows that truly random sequences, because they are incompressible, hold a lot more information than ordered living structures! With the foregoing in mind we can see that Faulkner completely misses the point. In absolute terms salt crystals have an extremely low probability i.e high information or “surprisal” value. Moreover, they have been manufactured by the algorithms of a relatively complex physical regime that under Faulkner’s own conceptions is likely to fall within the category he calls“specified complexity”.

Faulkner’s last sentence in the above quote is evidence of the dualist mold in which he has (unconsciously?) cast the issue. Implicit in Faulkner’s thought here is an assumed dichotomy between the properties of the physical regime and the action of an eminent intelligence which is envisaged to be imposed on a physical system from without.  As we have seen, in dualist thinking the properties of the "natural" physical regime stand in contra-distinction to the action of intelligence. Dualists like Faulkner habitually and probably unconsciously assume God’s action is analogous to an alien intelligence that arranges a configuration as per, for instance, the 2001 monolith which would otherwise be very unlikely to appear without ancillary intelligent action. Hence Faulkner betrays his conception of God as a kind of alien-of-the-gaps doing stuff that the physical world can't otherwise do. He therefore needs alien-of-the-gaps type activity as evidence of God's existence.  But it appears not to enter Faulkner’s cognizance that the totalising God of Christianity is intimately involved with every action of his creation whether by permission or by choice and that would include all the activities of the physical regime.

As far as humans and aliens are concerned matter has a motive power of its own apart from them. But this perspective should not be imputed to the Christian God who is both immanent and eminent. From a divine point of view matter doesn’t have a power of its own; all its powers are granted by God himself.  Given that the Christian God is so intimately involved with his world, the information required to generate life from non-life could conceivably be ever immanent in the physical regime. But against the backdrop of dualism’s alien-of-the-gaps thinking a cosmic regime which succeeds in generating life without the presence of an ancillary intelligence threatens to render redundant the dualist God who is needed to make good the “gaps”.

However, even crystals that form out of solution, such as salt, cease to produce any more order once they form. If anything, once crystals form, they accumulate defects in their crystal structure, which is less ordered and hence follows the second law of thermodynamics. That is, even open systems generally follow the second law of thermodynamics. To expect that life somehow developed from this is a gross extrapolation.

MY COMMENT: This is mad. As far as I’m aware nobody is suggesting that crystal formation bucks the second law of thermodynamics any more than does life’s routine ability to introduce local order to huge quantities of matter by “natural” means. Neither is anybody suggesting that open systems buck the overall trend of a global increase in entropy. However, I agree that the local order increases seen in crystal formation are a far cry from the increases in local order that would be required of a cosmic system which, through as yet unidentified information resources, generates living structures.

In similar manner, evolutionists propose that once enough order arose to allow for DNA and the machinery of cells, further random changes led to increased order. Again, the appeal is made to the magic of open systems. But merely being an open system in not sufficient to contradict the second law of thermodynamics.

MY COMMENT: There is a straw man here: Just who is suggesting open systems contradict the second law?  I'm fast coming to the opinion that Faulkner really doesn't understand the second law.

In evolution there is no appeal to any open system magic. Living things are open systems which, as I have repeatedly said, bring about huge increases in local order and a "molecules-to-man" miracle without contradicting the second law. Those who propose evolution, as far as I’m aware, are certainly not saying that because evolution is an open system it is either a) allowed to contradict the second law or b) being an open system in and of itself is a guarantee of local increases in order; system openness merely means that local increases in order become logically possible, but not logically necessary. 

All the appeal to open systems means is that the increases in local order demanded by evolution are not a necessary violation of the second law requirement that entropy increases globally. Of course, the question of whether this has actually happened and the whereabouts of the information needed for it is the 64 trillion dollar question. But to attack evolutionists as if they are blatantly contradicting the second law is a straw man. Evolution, as proposed by the academic establishment, contradicts the second law no more than does life when it brings about local increases in order.

The moment after a living thing dies, the machinery and coded instructions still remain. Furthermore, a just-deceased organism is capable of exchanging matter and energy with its surroundings, making it still an open system. However, the indescribable spark of life is absent, and the machinery no longer works. The chemical reactions go in the direction that will re-establish thermodynamic equilibrium, and the molecules become less complex, not more complex. Given this, the appeal to an open system to rescue the day for evolution is not demonstrated and amounts to hand-waving and gross extrapolation.

MY COMMENT: Current ideas of how life manages to annex huge quantities of matter to bring about considerable increases  "natural" biological machinery needed to organise matter – even Faulkner seems to have admitted this as we have seen. So quite what Faulkner means by the  “indescribable spark of life” I don’t know. Is Faulkner suggesting that some kind of dualistic vitalism is involved with the very day to day maintenance of life?  Who knows!

When will this man understand that evolution no more makes appeal to “open systems magic” than does crystallisation or the growth and replication of life? To work, all these systems require a) up front information built into the physical regime and b) open boundaries so that local increases in order are achieved at the expense of global decreases in order.

In particular the living processes of growth and replication are, I guess, what Faulkner would admit to be “natural” systems routinely creating “molecules-to-man” regions of local organisation. But this sets a dangerous precedent for dualists like Faulkner: For it then becomes conceivable that a physical regime presided over by an immanent omnipotent deity could well have the wherewithal to generate life. Faulkner’s underlying God vs natural forces philosophy presents him with a stark choice between God and “nature”; or God and the "Green man" if you like! But we must bear in mind that Faulkner is not addressing scientists who can see through his YEC sales pitch but fundamentalist rank and file who want to hear what they want to hear.

At this point let me give my usual disclaimer. Given that the living process of growth and replication is a “natural” system  capable of creating regions of local order without violating the second law it doesn’t automatically follow that the “natural” physical regime can do the same thing. As I keep saying I have my doubts about the existence of the spongeam which is the underlying mathematical object containing the information needed for conventional evolution.

Unfortunately, not all discussions of the second law of thermodynamics and biological evolution from a creation perspective have been as well thought out and presented as they ought to have been. Hence, both sides have committed some errors. The problem for creationists is that we have yet to generate a rigorously formulated entropy-based hypothesis that clearly shows that life cannot arise through natural undirected processes. However, evolutionists generally have failed to produce a reasonable argument which agrees with observation that the second law of thermodynamics does not prohibit evolution.


MY COMMENT:  Clearly Faulkner is one of those people he criticises: His arguments are badly presented if not poorly thought out. But he’s right on this score: YECs, along with alien-of-the-gaps IDists,  have failed to show that the cosmic generation of life contradicts the second law. What people like Faulkner do not understand is that the second law doesn’t directly address the question. The second law only pertains to global entropy and not to local entropy and therefore it doesn’t bar huge local increases in order if the requisite information is present as we observe on a routine basis as life grows and replicates. Furthermore, what YECs like Faulkner don’t comprehend is that the answer to whether evolution is allowed or disallowed is not addressed by the second law but rather by the information implicit in the envelopes of constraint which could conceivably favour huge increases in local order sufficient for abiogenesis. Confirming the existence or nonexistence of such constraints (whether implicit in current known physics or new physics) from first principles (as opposed to observation) is currently beyond our science, it seems. My opinion, however, is that both YECs and IDists have failed to take account of the activity term in the creation of information; see here for more on this subject.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Dark matter, dark energy and matter; all the same thing?



The unexpected orbital velocity curve associated with galaxies. 

When she's not pushing de facto ID's dualist dichotomy of God did it vs. Natural forces did it, reporter Denise O'leary can be a useful read. Being part of North America's anti-academic-establishment, anti-liberal right wing lobby, 0'leary sniffs out the stuff that doesn't fit easily with current ideas, to the discomfiture of established science.  She means mischief of course, but the upside of that is that she reports those erratics and anomalies which are the fuel of scientific revolutions.

So, along these line I was very interested to see this post of hers entitled Understanding of dark matter  muddier due to new findings on the ID website Uncommon Descent. She quotes this article from Inside Science.  Viz:

Now researchers examining 153 galaxies find that by looking solely at where stars and gases in those galaxies are located, they could precisely predict the anomalous ways in which they moved. This may hint that dark matter is more strongly coupled to normal matter than currently thought. It could also indicate that dark matter does not exist and that another explanation is needed for the discrepancies that dark matter models were invoked to solve, said study lead author Stacy McGaugh, an astrophysicist and chair of astronomy at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

I find that v. interesting because my own theory of gravity as a manifestation of quantum non-linearity would mean that matter and those galactic gravitational anomalies should go together. In the theory I've developed (see here) "dark matter" doesn't exist but quantum non-linearity produces a modified gravity which explains the anomalies. In fact this theory tenders explanations for both the apparent existence of dark matter and dark energy. As the theory in effect identifies "dark matter" and "dark energy" with matter itself, then it follows that matter and the putative effects of dark matter and dark energy are the effects of one realm rather than two potentially independent classes of matter. If dark matter and dark energy actually existed then further explanation would be needed to account for this association. But if matter, dark matter and dark energy are of a piece then the reason for the association would make sense.

All that's easy to say of course. I've only partially quantified my dark matter and dark energy theories. I must admit I am not heavily motivated to take it much further because I tend not to have much confidence in my own theories, those "left brain" creations. Steve Pinker calls the left brain the "baloney generator".   But nevertheless generating baloney can be fun!

Why I wrote my book: See here

Saturday, September 24, 2016

YEC guru advises YECs not to use entropy arguments against evolution.

Set in stone: The Boltzmann entropy equation: Entropy as a function of statistical weight. 

I was intrigued by this article on the YEC web site Creation Ministries International*. At last I have found some sensible advice on the second law of thermodynamics coming from a fundamentalist source.  The article contains the replies by YEC guru Jonathan Sarfati to the queries of a YEC follower who has an engineering degree but who was nevertheless struggling to understand the second law of thermodynamics and whether or not it can be used to support YEC opposition to evolution. In fact the article is entitled How useful is the Second Law of Thermodynamics as an argument against evolution?

Below I quote bits of the article and interleave my comments.

 YEC follower: I heard an example used by an atheist to show proof of self-organizing systems or increased complexity by way of a naturalistic manner. This is done to support molecules-to-man evolution. The example is: As two hydrogen molecules come together with an oxygen to form water they say it is proof that the complex can come from the simple without help from God in some kind of autopoietic (?) fashion perhaps

My Comment: Observe the worry caused by this YEC’s implicit dualism; he takes it for granted that the whole debate can be cast into a dichotomized naturalism vs. God mold.  Given this mold, if it were ever shown unequivocally that the cosmic status quo has the informational wherewithal to generate life then this YEC may have a problem; to him and, ironically,  to atheist detractors who also subliminally hold on to this dichotomy, the cosmos then looks suspiciously “autopoietic"; that is, able to generate living configurations "without help from God".  This fear is in fact encouraged by the de facto IDist’s botched “god intelligence-of-the-gaps” epistemic filter, an epistemic which requires physical explanations to fail before the presence of an intervening intelligent agency is declared.

YEC follower: My first reaction when I heard this was to bring up the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Indeed, complexity seems to increase but at the expense of heat loss as an exothermic reaction where some (or most? don’t remember right now) of the heat is never to be recovered again. This shows entropy of the system/universe as a whole, an enemy of their attempt to see this as an autopoietic system…… Would the entropy of the heat/work available in the system support a refutation on the biblical creationist’s part regarding the impossibility of any system to ‘self-organize’ due to the Second Law. Am I leaping too far at this point?

My Comment: He’s aware that the second law doesn’t rule out local decreases in entropy as long as they are outweighed by increases in entropy elsewhere in the closed system, but he is confused about the implications of this for both evolutionists and fellow YECs: For evolutionists (and not as this YEC follower suggests) the global rundown of the universe is not a necessary problem because that run down is still consistent with local increases in order, increases which potentially might include the development of life. This YEC follower, however, is troubled by the possibility of local increases in order because from the perspective of his dualistic paradigm of God vs. nature he senses it may ultimately play into the hands of evolutionists.

YEC follower: I may be heading in two directions at once on this since a discussion of Thermodynamics may be all that’s needed without dragging in a secondary one regarding Information Theory or something. Although I’m not sure how to apply Information Theory to the water molecule formation yet, I would like to if it fits somehow or helps the creationist refutation.

My Comment: He’s hankering after the common YEC canard that the second law is a self-contained mathematical argument refuting evolution with all the certainty of physical law. This, as it turns out, is a will-o-the-wisp for YECs. He’s better following through with information theory (as Sarfati himself advises. as we shall see below), but that will take him into deep waters he wants to avoid.

YEC follower: Next, I was stumped for a while on trying to decide what to do with ‘endothermic’ reactions. If an endothermic reaction borrows heat from its surroundings then it only temporarily stores heat until released by another type reaction later perhaps. Maybe like a tree? Would not a tree be something like an endothermic reaction that increases in apparent complexity from a seed to a full grown specimen drawing in energy from its surroundings, IE. the sun?

My Comment: Once again the recurring theme is that our YEC follower senses those manifest local increases in order set a bad precedent for his subliminal God vs naturalism paradigm; for perhaps somehow evolution is one of these temporary local increases in order? And yes, biological systems routinely increase local order by organising huge quantities of less ordered matter. They can do this because they have the informational recipes in the form of DNA instructions along with mechanisms to read them and thence churn out proteinised matter. So, if life is a "natural" system that can considerably increase local order perhaps hidden up in the physical status quo is sufficient information to bring about local increases in order such as would be needed for evolution? Or perhaps not! Who knows! The proof of this either way may be computationally irreducible and therefore beyond human analytical solution.

YEC follower: With Information Theory and molecular genetics telling us that the seed has all it needs to be a tree, it indeed then ‘borrows’ energy from the sun for a time building in ‘apparent’ complexity through a type of endothermic system. However, in the end the tree would finally give up this ‘borrowed’ energy in the form of heat exothermically by way of being burned, eaten, or chemically rotted away perhaps. This would then be an end process like the exothermic formation of a water molecule in a ‘Second Law supporting’ event, again upholding the previous idea of increased entropy in the system.
So, do I drag in Thermodynamics, Information Theory, Autopoiesis, or what to draw up a good article on this idea of the humble water molecule?

My Comment: He’s confused. Yes, as he suggests there is the run down into a total entropy increase which ultimately will effect everything, but in the meantime our physical regime clearly allows local increases of order as the routine growth of life shows. So the question remains; could those local increases of order become so large as to allow macro evolution ? If they did then somewhere the requisite information is implicit.
 
Sarfarti, YEC guru, responds: (My emphases in bold): The reaction 2H2 + O2 → 2H2O occurs because it is exothermic, which pumps heat (Q) into the surroundings, thus by definition increases their entropy by Q/T. This outweighs any loss because of the higher ordering of the water molecules.

Also, the order in the water molecules is based on the chemical properties of the component atoms. This is very different in kind from the organization of proteins and DNA. My response to an evolutionary science writer explains this in more detail as does my book By Design.

Endothermic reactions I’ve touched on in this article I co-authored for the homeschooling magazine The Old Schoolhouse: Scientific experiments for homeschoolers.

I tend not to use entropy arguments at all for biological systems.

I must admit that I hardly ever refer to the second law, although as a Ph.D. physical chemist I am well qualified to do so. Without meaning to brag, if I don’t use it, then few people should; instead, concentrate on the information argument. I’ve seen both creationists and evolutionists make mistakes in their discussions; see for example The Second Law of Thermodynamics: Answers to critics. But for a sound discussion on second law arguments, which are strongest when dealing with chemical evolution (origin of life from non-living chemicals), see the chapters from The Mystery of Life’s Origin.

I tend not to use entropy arguments at all for biological systems. I have yet to see the calculations involving either heat transfer or Boltzmann microstates involved for natural selection. Until creationists can do that, they should refrain from claiming that organic evolution contradicts the Second Law; a trite appeal to “things become more disordered according to the Second Law” is inadequate.

Origin of first life is different, since natural selection can’t occur without two or more self-reproducing entities.

I hope these comments are helpful.

My Comment: That’s the most sensible statement I’ve seen from a YEC about the second law of thermodynamics; I largely agree with it. But at what point do those awkward local increases in order permitted by the second law become taboo for a dualist YEC?  The second law in and of itself is far too loose a law to be used as a standalone disproof of evolution. As Sarfati rightly implies it all swings on the question of the ultimate origin of the information present in living structures. We know for example that biological systems routinely and massively increase local order - "naturally"!! In this case, however, we know where the "natural" informational mechanisms are located; namely, the DNA recipes and their associated reading and “writing” machinery. It is therefore conceivable that information for evolution resides somewhere in the physical regime; perhaps in the laws of physics or some other aspect of the physical regime not yet understood; basically there is no unassailable argument which pins down the source of that information; either it’s part of the physical regime’s status quo or it is patched in ad hoc by a deity or alien intelligence. As regards the possibility that this information is implicit in our physical regime, Sarfati implies we need to know the breakdown of the microscopic statistical weights per macrostate. This would then tell us the likely path the physical system will take through the space of macrostates as its global order runs down. But this calculation is a huge many body problem and no one knows the answer, and that includes YECs as Sarfati frankly admits. But the second law in and of itself provides no short cut answer to that problem as some naive YECs  and IDists have tried to maintain.

Sarfati mentions the book The Mystery of Life’s Origins. I looked at three of the relevant chapters of this book in the Darwin centenary year of 2009 (See here, here and here) and it became clear to me that these chapters don’t address the question of how the information needed for life is applied; whether through the constraints of the physical status quo or whether that information is patched in ad hoc on occasions by some alien intelligence.

***

Where many YECs and IDists go wrong is that they don’t acknowledge the potential and critical role of the information implicit in the constraints introduced by the physical regime. It is these constraints which determine the macro evolution of the system. The second law only tells us that the system will likely move toward the macro states of greatest statistical weight – not a particularly startling conclusion. But it is the constraints of the physical regime which will tell us if the macro states through which the system passes as it moves from a macro state of lower statistical weight to a macro state of higher statistical weight include localised regions of high order such as organic structures.

The pertinent question, a question not answered by the second law, is how the information implicit in the system is applied: Is it part of the God ordained constraints of the physical status quo or does God behave like an “alien-of-the-gaps” who on occasion down loads information into the system? Dualists who hold to an implicit God vs nature paradigm have little option but to support the alien-of-the-gaps concept of divine intervention in the "natural order" of things. Given the immanence of God and the failure of alien-of-the-gaps' science of interventions, at least in its YEC and IDist manifestations, this seems an unlikely option. 

However, if the information needed for evolution is part of the physical status quo that would require the spongeam to exist, a mathematical object whose existence I doubt**. Hence, through my two projects, Melancolia I and the Thinknet project I’m probing the idea that the physical regime has bestowed upon it some of the necessary features of an intelligent system; chiefly the ability to embark on searches of huge numbers of cases using expanding parallelism and then collapsing the search envelop in favor of some sort of selection. This activity, as I show, is capable of creating (local) information especially if teleological selection is adopted. But even under these conditions it doesn’t necessarily follow that the second law is contravened.

But be all that as it may I concede that Sarfati has done science a service in advising YEC followers not to use the second law against evolution. In a future post, however, I intend to look at what Ken Ham’s tame research guru, Danny Faulkner, has written on the second law. I have not been impressed with Faulkner’s work (See here and here for example) and it’s no spoiler to let it be known he makes a pig’s ear of it as do many YECs and IDists. 

Footnotes
* On CMI: Creation Ministries International are the YEC organisation who had the misfortune to get caught up in the sordid John MacKay Affair.
** The reasons for this doubt are based on the overwhelming statistical weight of disorder. See this paper for details.