Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The General Language of Reality

This yellowing paper back started something for me!

This post on Uncommon Descent piqued my interest: It is about the question of whether animals really have language and the first sentence of the post, probably written by Denise O’Leary, reads:
And you just know how desperate they are to get to “yes”
I think you will find that Denise O’Leary’s thought behind this sentence is likely to ruin run along these lines “Uh Oh, here we go again; materialists trying to blur the distinction between animals and humans in their efforts to spread Darwinist propaganda!,

I’m afraid I have to say that once again I find myself at odds with Denise. In my opinion it is very likely that animals do have language albeit at an elementary precursor stage. Why do I say this?

Well, that is a very long story which I hope to tell one day in full. Its beginnings go back at least to the time I started programming a simple word association network on a spectrum home computer with ideas taken from Edward De Bono’s book “The Mechanism of Mind”. This project, which I called project "X", got more and more complicated as I upgraded first to an Amiga500 and finally a Windows PC where I programmed the project in C++.  It was this project that actually prompted my rather amateurish foray into quantum theory and the private publishing of my book Gravity and Quantum non-linearity. To cut a long story short it was clear to me that the association game had a very general structure about it, so general that it even echoed aspects of quantum mechanical ideas. I actually allude to the project in these web items:

I have recently read the book “Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes” by ex-Christian SIL missionary Daniel Everett. He challenges the ideas of Chomsky and proposes that there is not so much a language instinct as there is a general cognitive ability on which language runs. If my ideas are valid then I partly agree with Everett. Intelligence has an underlying general structure, so general that it is even reflected in quantum mechanics. Language arises out of this very general cognitive structure as a specialised application of it. However, having said that I suspect that the general “De Bono thinking surface” has to be tweaked by setting up its adjustable parameters so as to make it work well for a specialised job like complex  language and this is probably why the human brain has “Broca’s area”. But because language is rooted in such a general cognitive “machine” animals are likely to display a proto-language use. So, I probably position myself somewhere between Chomsky and Dennett. But more about this another time. For the moment I’ll leave you with the first paragraphs of an essay I started writing several years ago where I intended to go into more detail:

By 1987, the year my paper on probability was accepted, I had also been playing around with a word association program I had written in Basic on a Spectrum computer. My interest in association networks had found the beginnings of a theoretical base after reading Edward De Bono’s book “The Mechanism of Mind”. So, having got the probability issue behind me with a paper in the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science I stood back for a bit and took stock. As I pondered the work I had done with probability and randomness I fancied I saw a connection between the latter and the ideas underlying the association network software I had written for my spectrum computer. Moreover, the association network seemed to be at least a faint of echo of the process of human thinking (as De Bono intended it). In particular it reflected somewhat the way thought flows from one conscious impression to the next. My mind at that time was alive with ideas of artificial intelligence and my work in probability had thrown some light on the subject. One day at the beginning of August 1987 I wrote some notes on AI, notes that started with the following rather grandiose lines:

“When developing a thinking machine we need to ask ourselves a question: What is a very general representation of reality?  What is the basic form of a notation that can be used to describe any situation? Once we have found this very general notation we can then start to construct a machine that models reality using it.”

The idea here was that if there is a very general representation of reality, so general that it applies to any situation, then this representation amounted to a universal way of thinking about things. Thus, if that representation is modeled on a machine then perhaps we would have in our hands a way to model thinking and intelligence. As for the answer to the question of the general representation to use, that seemed obvious to me: The association network formalism gave me that language, and the isomorphism that that formalism had with the models I was using to explore randomness and probability suggested to me that this formalism was the one to use.  Let me explain how this works.....

…perhaps another time! Since I last wrote the foregoing I think there has been a subtle shift in my thinking; The general language of reality is not so much a representation of reality as reality itself!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

A Song Dedicated to Epistemic Humility

The title I've given this blog is a bit of a long shot, but I wanted an excuse to publish this number, one of my favourites:

You must have seen parties of Blockheads
With blotched and lagered skin
Blockheads with food particles in their teeth
What a horrible state they're in

They've got womanly breasts under pale mauve vests
Shoes like dead pigs' noses
Cornflake packet jacket, catalogue trousers
A mouth what never closes

You must have seen Blockheads in raucous teams
Dressed up after work
Who screw their poor old Eileens
Get sloshed and go berserk

Rotary accessory watches
Hire-purchase signet rings
A beauty to the bully boys
No lonely vestige clings

Why bother at all about Blockheads?
Why shouldn't they do as they please?
You know if it came to a brainy game
You could baffle a Blockhead with ease

How would you like one puffing and blowing in your ear-hole?
Or pissing in your swimming pool?

Bigger brained Blockheads often acquire
Black and orange cars
Premature ejaculation drivers
Their soft-top's got roll-bars

'Fill her up,' they say to Blockheads
'Go on, stick it where it hurts'
Their shapeless haircuts don't enhance
Their ghastly patterned shirts

Why bother at all about Blockheads?
Superior as you are
You're thoughtful and kind with a well-stocked mind
A Blockhead can't think very far

Imagine finding one in your laundry basket
Banging nails in your big black dog

Why bother at all about Blockheads?
Why should you care what they do?
Cos after all is said and done
You're a Blockhead too

(oi oi)
(oi, oi)...

The "mad" guitarist is Wilko Johnson, one of the guitar maestros! 

The Great Epistemic Tradeoff

The title should of course read "Has It Ever Occurred to You that We Might Both be Wrong?" Epistemic humility doesn't come naturally to human beings.

Evangelical atheist Larry Moran is still hung up on what he refers to as the “Demarcation Problem”; that is, the question of where does science end and non-science start.  This is his take on the question: (See  John Wilkins discusses the "Demarcation Problem”, "Sandwalk" blogspot, 18 August)

I side with those philosophers who prefer a broad definition of science—the one that's more akin to "scientia" or the German word Wissenschaft. According to this view, science is a way of knowing based on evidence, rational thinking, and healthy skepticism. As long as you are employing this approach, you are engaging in a scientific way of knowing. This includes economists, physicians, and philosophers.

I largely concur with this definition of science; all epistemic efforts juxtapose the “evidence” of experiential protocols with theoretical narratives in an endeavor to work out a synthesis between the two (See my side bar). So, in the final analysis a very large class of theoretical narratives are “scientific” in as much as they are attempts to make sense of the “evidential” samples of protocol experience.  But having said that I must add the caveat that “evidences” never constitute proof of a theoretical narrative in the sense that those evidences can be used to rigorously derive the theory in question. (See here)

According to the foregoing sketch any epistemology classifies as science if it involves setting narrative against the samples of empirical protocols and then attempts to resolve their conflicts (rationally one hopes!). But where I feel Moran falls down here is that he fails to emphasize the effect of ontology on the effectiveness of our scientific epistemology: The ontology of history, for example, is far less tractable to systematic investigation than springs and chemical precipitates (See here). It is clear therefore that some ontologies are more amenable to abductive inference from the window of our experience than others; in particular, an ontology of erratics, irregularities and anomalies is epistemologically difficult to handle. A consequence is that such ontologies give scope for imaginative fantasy; see for example David Ike’s interpretation of the human socio-political life and let’s be clear even Ike’s science is empirical in as much as it is an attempt to make sense, albeit in a very idiosyncratic way, of his social experience. But let’s also be clear that given an irregular ontology there comes a trade-off:; the scope that such ontology gives for far reaching and visionary imaginative construction based on relatively paltry evidences must be set against the likelihood of taking a wrong path. I see nothing wrong in imaginative speculation provided it comes with the self-aware traits of skepticism and self-doubt: These are traits we don’t see amongst the David Ikes or Ken Hams of this world. Unfortunately there is no clear cut-off between science and bad science – as the ontology gets less tractable the science gets more subject to risky flights of the imagination. If we are to indulge in imaginative science we do so at our own risk and must do so with self-awareness, unless we are to succumb to self-delusion.

But although I agree with a broad definition of science Moran, as an evangelical atheist, is anxious to spread the word of atheism and therefore I am suspicious of his motives.  My guess is that behind his wanting to broaden the definition of science beyond the physical sciences is a latent intellectual hegemony which seeks a basis from which to legitimize charges of scientific heresy. Moran seems to be unaware that his broad definition of science introduces a tradeoff between scientific comprehensiveness and epistemic risk which in turn entails an epistemic spectrum with no clear cut-off between good science and bad-science. I also suspect that Moran has conflated ontology and epistemology to the extent that he has committed himself (unconsciously?) to a belief that the mechanisms which facilitate the success of test tube precipitating and spring extending science are comprehensive enough to provide a model for what all science should look like. For myself I think it likely that the historian, the social scientist and the theologian will always be with us as scholars operating an epistemology that in detail looks very different to Moran’s.  Moreover, it is certainly not clear just how comprehensive is the standard model of physics, especially as physics itself teaches us that at best physics is only a frame work that modulates the vicissitudes of chaos, thus giving plenty of scope for those who might fancy they see patterns in the chaos. But as for Larry Moran, my guess he thinks he knows in advance how it all works (in principle; it's just the details that need filling out!), when in fact all he is seeing is the systematic/regular ontology that gets selected out by a our systematic methods. I bet he thinks that the broad definition of science is a nifty way of excluding theology from the "empirical" club. In his darkest dreams he has no idea that this broad definition creates a demarcation problem that results in theology being embraced into science. If he wants to call theology "bad science" then perhaps he ought to get off his butt and shows us why it is so, given that it's a science that deals with an awkward high end ontology. Trouble is, he'd much prefer to write it off without serious engagement!

It is ironic that in the final analysis all our theoretical narrative construction has to ultimately face the sampling of empirical protocol evidence to a greater or lesser degree, a degree that depends on how “hard” is the science we are dealing with  and just how tractable its subject ontology. For example, theology is unlikely to think of itself as empirical and yet that is just what it is; it is an imaginative attempt to make sense of the human predicament from the perspective of that predicament’s widest parameters. Fundamentalists try to circumvent the imaginative component of theology by attempting to make the Bible look like a set of observational protocols (“God Words”). This fundamentalist scriptural epistemic does little justice to the formula Meaning = text + context,  a formula that tells us that interpretation is not an extrinsic property of language, but an extrinsic one arising from language acting as a stimulant which brings forth meaning out of the context on which it works. (under divine sovereign management, of course)

For those schooled in the notion that empiricism is confined to the “majesteria” (silly term!) of spring extending and test tube precipitating science, the idea that theology is actually observational is difficult to take on board – see for example my discussions with doubting Christian James Moar. I don’t think that during our discussion James got to grips with the idea that theology suffers from the empirical-theoretical trade-off. The elementary ontology behind springs and chemical precipitates has a strong empirical component but correspondingly has less a priori cognitive input; what complex awkward ontologies lose in empiricism they gain in a priori imaginative input, but let us beware of the cost and the risk of going off at half-cock in this case. James Moar was coming from a stronger evangelical position than myself and was therefore looking, I guess, for a theology with a firmer basis of experiential protocols, perhaps even some kind of personal “Wow!” type revelation demonstrating God’s existence. In the end I don’t think he ever got his much wanted revelation and like myself he was left having to give his best shot at interpreting what experience he has been given! But if God is the sort of God we think he is (Hebrews 1:1ff) then we’re on to a winner!

Relevant links

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Melencolia I Part 3: Sharpening the Focus.

The previous parts of this series can be seen here:

I was interested to see this blog post by evangelical atheist Larry Moran where he refers to a post on the IDist web site Uncommon Descent by a Gordon E. Mullings (aka “Kariosfocus”). In the referenced post Mullings publishes a quote from an IDist who bemoans the fact that the academic establishment simply hasn’t been moved by what to him is the clear and convincing case for his version of intelligent design.  As often happens with the members of a  somewhat beleaguered and marginalized subculture he just can’t believe that this stone walling is down to a dispassionate intellectual rebuttal but rather a wilful ulterior-motive laden rejection of what to him is oh so obvious. So, all too typically we find that Mullings’ quotation puts it down to a “heart problem” rather than a “head problem”. The intended hint here is that those who continue in an informed rejection of Mullings’ version of ID probably do so with bad consciences if not black hearts. This tendency to believe in the depravity of one’s detractors, as I have pointed out on my blogs, is a background attitude which provides fertile ground for conspiracy theorism, should it take root. But to be fair, Mullings and his friends have often been unpleasantly abused, although frankly I don’t think that some of Mullings’ somewhat paranoid denunciations have helped calm things down.

For my own part I find it difficult to take sides here: Polarization has killed off dispassionate debate. Many atheists are probably thoroughly annoyed by the North American IDist’s claim that they have scientific authority to push their case for God via Dembski’s explanatory filter (*1). But conversely atheists also attempt to use scientific authority to rule theism out of court (See here). In any case Mullings often fails to do justice to himself with his paranoid behavior and I doubt there is much respect for all his technical efforts – these are just brushed away by evangelical atheists without thoughtful engagement as just so much window dressing and laughable sophistry. But there is in my opinion a deep flaw in the kind of IDist thinking Mullings stands for: Viz: He talks about the computational resources of the cosmos being incapable of locating life using a “blind search”, but he appears not to consider the obvious solution that the cosmos may have sufficient ongoing immanent divine resourcing to presume it to be a blind search; In fact the Wiki entry that comments on Dembski’s “Universal Probability Bound”, (an idea enthusiastically promoted by Mullings) spots the way out:

Dembski appeals to cryptographic practice in support of the concept of the universal probability bound, noting that cryptographers have sometimes compared the security of encryption algorithms against brute force attacks by the likelihood of success of an adversary utilizing computational resources bounded by very large physical constraints. An example of such a constraint might be obtained for example, by assuming that every atom in the known universe is a computer of a certain type and these computers are running through and testing every possible key. However, universal measures of security are used much less frequently than asymptotic ones.[6] The fact that a keyspace is very large is useless if the cryptographic algorithm used has vulnerabilities which make it susceptible to other kinds of attacks.

For a theist like myself the weakness in Mullings' argument is that divine intelligence is, presumably, well able to express itself in a much better than “blind” search. Like many IDists of his persuasion Mullings gives every impression of being against the idea that the cosmos has the wherewithal to “naturally” generate life. This is, I believe, an outcome of the polarised state of the debate where respective sides have tacitly taken onboard a “God vs Nature” dichotomy along with the implicit conclusion that it’s an exclusive choice between “natural forces” and God. This dichotomy is reinforced by Dembski’s explanatory filter which necessarily imposes a sharp distinction between “natural causes” and “intelligent agency”.

It is ironic that my own position is probably nearer that of the atheists Viz: That the cosmos has generated life …. although I propose that the cosmos has generated life because it is providentially resourced to do so. Where I differ from these atheists is that I see the generation of life as a remarkable non-trivial property of the cosmos. In fact Mullings and myself probably have common ground in agreeing that any  “law and disorder” description of the cosmos always leaves us with irreducibly startling features; we can never trivialize those features away with law and disorder explanations. The ontology of law and disorder posited by the physical sciences is, in the final analysis, complete when full description is reached; attempts to push it any further leads to a regression of nested explanatory contexts and this is mathematically akin to attempts to compress an already compressed data set; further attempts at compression gain no further reduction in the data string. The highly unrepresentative configurations of life are startling and remarkable, but attempts to explain them with law and disorder scenarios leads to logical conditions that are no less startling and remarkable. As Sir Patrick Moore once said: Our science is strong on detail but weak on fundamentals. We have to seek a very special kind of explanatory narrative if we are to stop this regress: An extraordinary universe requires an extraordinary explanation. But that’s another story I won’t talk of here; let’s leave theology out of it for the moment and just stick to physical science.

The bald fact is that Mullings and his colleagues have failed to get their message across; I put that down in part to their framing of the question of life with what appears to be a dualist “God did it vs Nature did it” dichotomy. This dualism is a gift to evangelical atheists who understandably are prompted to attack the weakness in this dualist IDism; namely, that there is little evidence for a "God-of-the-gaps-did-it" view: For it is clear that whether Mullings likes it or not, intended it or not,  at  least one atheist sees Mullings' case as a "God of the gaps" model. As Larry Moran says in his post:

There is no evidence for the existence of a creator who meddles in the affairs of living organisms.

(This statement, by the way, betrays a misunderstanding of how evidence is actually used; see here for details). If this “interfering” deity is what Mullings and his colleagues are really promoting – and they give every impression of doing so – then it is no wonder that the academic establishment, Christian and atheist alike, takes such a dim view of their efforts: While I personally don’t rule out the anomalous and the miraculous the fact is such things are few and far between by their very definition and amount to positing an erratic ontology that makes it impossible to provide high standards of evidence for; scientific epistemology has great difficulty with an ontology of erratics. So, if as the North American IDists appear to claim life was generated by the one-off interferences of an eminent intelligence, an intelligence which could well be little green or gray men inside the cosmos, then that is going to generate a very soft science, a kind of super-attenuated archeology in fact.

In order to back up his case for a “meddling” deity Mullings posts this graphic panel:

This graphic by Gordon E Mullings perpetuates the North American "Wow!" signal argument for an interfering Intelligence eminent to the processes of nature. (Click to enlarge)

Living structures if described in terms of their self-maintaining activities can be relatively simply defined without, as Mullings rightly says, specifying all the coordinates of their configuration. Moreover, compared to all the imaginable possible atomic arrangements it is clear that this class of self-maintaining structures, even the simplest of them, is negligibly small and so on a purely chance selection no member of this set would likely be found even given 10150 trials! But the trouble with the argument here is that Mullings doesn’t define what he means be “all relevant possibilities” and this vague reference hides a big issue.

To see this let’s take for example a construction set like Lego. Clearly the total possible ways of arranging the bricks in a big Lego set is a huge number and utterly dwarfs the set of constructions that do “something useful”.  But there is a big difference between the total number of conceivable arrangements of Lego bricks and the number of arrangements that come to light should we start moving around the Lego bricks according to some constraining developmental regime, perhaps with aim of searching for “something useful”. These two sorts of “relevant possibilities”, namely the total conceivable possibilities and the possibilities that come to light as a result of constrained change, are very different in character. Ostensibly it might seem that any configuration of atoms is possible and violates no physical law, but - and this is the big “but” -  physical law is also about change and given the regime of change in our cosmos it is clear than not all configurations pop up in a given time; so in the developmental sense the “relevant possibilities” are very different from the conceivable “relevant possibilities”.

If Mullings had taken this distinction onboard I suspect his panel would be very different in content. In fact I have yet to see any serious considerations by his IDist subculture of how physical constraints enhance the search for organic forms; when they have considered this topic they usually think terms of the “dynamic fallacy” whereby they believe the problem is to counter suggestions that the organic biopolymers are somehow coded directly into the physical regime. Better perhaps is their concept of Irreducible Complexity, but even that they have managed to screw up on. But if rightly defined irreducible complexity would, however, be a big evolution stopper, and Mullings and co would then have the last laugh. However, there is one other big issue I have with Mullings which may make all this irrelevant. This issue is Mullings promotion of Dembski’s probability bound; namely, that the cosmos has an upper limit of only being able to locate at best a 1 in 10 150 instance.

I would propose that potentially the cosmos has a much, much greater power of searching out rare cases than Dembki’s probability bound suggests and this follows from certain quantum mechanical considerations.  We can begin to appreciate this by first looking at the classical analogy of quantum mechanics – namely, elementary diffusion. One dimensional diffusion can be simulated using a system of nodes laid out on the x-coordinate. If the diffusion distribution is represented by Y(x) then the system of nodes can simulate the diffusion simply by signaling one another with wY(x) where x is the position of a node and w is the analogue of the step probability in random walk. The result is a simulation of the elementary diffusion equation:

Equation 1

 Where e is the distance between nodes and v is the velocity of the signal. (More detail about this topic can be read in my private publication “Gravity and Quantum Non-Linearity”)
The number of nodes working in parallel to simulate this equation is potentially proportional to L/e where L is the length of the x coordinate.  But this is just for one dimension. If we have N particles then the diffusion distribution is represented by Y(x1,…xjxN), a quantity defined over a space of N dimensions. The appropriate diffusion equation is then:
Equation 2

…where for simplicity I have assumed that e, w, and v are independent of coordinate, although in general this is not the case.

If for the sake of argument we assume that each coordinate has length L then the total number of nodes will be (L/e)N. These nodes effectively act as our processors and so potentially the simulation could utilize the power of (L/e)N nodes. If N ~ number of particles in the observable cosmos we can see straight away that the number of processors is so huge that potentially it will return a processing power far in excess of the strictures of Dembski’s probability bound; this bound only raises 10 to the power of a 3 digit number, whereas in (L/e)N, the power N, assuming a figure similar to the number of elementary particles in the observable universe, is far in excess of 3 digits.

However our simulation isn't doing anything useful. In order to make it build things we need to add a potential term, V, thus:
Equation 3

Here I have taken the quantity e inside the summation and made it a variable that depends on coordinate, but this will not substantially change the enormous number of processors involved. The significance of this change will become clearer shortly.

The potential terms V(x1….xN)Y is way of “pumping in” signal in some regions but extracting it in other regions in order to conserve the distribution for correct normalization. This term, as we know, can be arranged so that there is a tendency for particles to stick together, thereby acting much like the attachments of some kind of construction set. If so, then this will mean that the distribution has tendency to accumulate around certain coordinates values representing the case where particles coagulate. To be sure however, this accumulation of the distribution would be very small if the space is very large and the size of the particles in terms of their surrounding potentials are small; this is because under these conditions there is a very small chance that the particles will find such configurations. But here’s the crucial point: These configurations will effectively be flagged and marked by a raised distribution at those points.

We can considerably enhance this simulation in favour of organized configurations by turning equation 3 into its quantum mechanical equivalent (See again Gravity and Quantum Non-Linearity). This is easily done by simply replacing the real signal wY of ordinary diffusion with a complex number signaling of form iwY thus giving us the multidimensional Schrodinger equation: (*2)

Equation 4

…where w, v and ei are adjustable constants that can be set to give us the usual quantum mechanical factors of Planck’s constant and mass: Notice, however, that the factor ei which I placed inside the summation can now be seen as a way of simulating different particle masses.
The reason why this equation is a huge improvement over ordinary real diffusion is that the wave nature of the resulting solutions has the effect of cancelling out (when normalized) huge fields of bland randomness, thereby enhancing the relative presence of those peaks of coherent and organized structures. In short quantum signaling is way of insuring that organization and coherence become disproportionality represented. This is just the sort of constraint we need to help enhance the search for life.

So, the points I would like to leave us with at this stage are:

ONE: The quantum mechanical processing potentially involves huge numbers of processors
TWO: Bland fields of randomness are canceled out.
THREE: Organized and highly coherent structures are flagged with raised distributions.

But there is a little problem:  In the Wiki entry about Dembski’s probability bound of 10150 we read that Seth Lloyd has come up with a bound which has a power of similar order of magnitude as that of Dembski. Lloyd and Dembski aren’t sloppy workers, so how does this square with the enormous processing power I’m proposing where the power of ten isn't merely a three digit number but is itself a power of ten?

The answer may be this: The sort of quantum mechanical vision I've sketched out above entails quantum systems maintaining the ambiguity of their prospecting signals over huge regions of space. The trouble is, at the macroscopic level we don’t observe an ambiguous reality – the apparent discontinuous jumps of the state vector always seem to contrive an unambiguous macroscopic reality. This “collapsing” of the state vector has the effect of clearing away the work of huge numbers of nodes (*2). So in this light I suspect that Lloyd and Dembski are probably right is reducing the apparent processing power to a mere three digit power of ten. But the enormous computational potential of QM is nevertheless clear; perhaps we simply don’t perceive it because human consciousness is only ever handed unambiguous macro states that have been “collapsed” into a far less ambiguous state; who knows what goes on in between these discontinuities?

I find I can’t dismiss the powerful computational potential of quantum mechanics: QM looks to me as if it is meant to use that potential. In fact, let me speculate a bit: Those prospective signals look like the means by which possibilities are probed before a selection decision is made – in short, an important aspect of intelligent activity; seek, find, reject and select. So, if my guess is right then in quantum mechanics are we watching intelligence at work at the low level, much as we might see the low level neural signaling of human consciousness, if we look very closely; the trouble with the low level view is that it so easily misses the big picture.

An extraordinary cosmos requires an extraordinary explanation: For me the idea of the cosmos being intelligence in action is commensurately extraordinary with the extraordinariness of the universe itself. However, people’s intuitions about what is extraordinary are not necessarily going to concur and may actually conflict. But my excuse is that I’m in uncharted waters here and I can only present what are my own personal speculations and intuitions about the nature of the universe. This is no basis for accusing those who don’t agree with me about God as having bad consciences and perhaps even dark hearts, or as is the habit of fundamentalists of accusing disbelievers of “suppressing the Truth in unrighteousness”!  This sort of epistemic arrogance leads to tribalisation and at the extreme end can even be used to legitimize genocide.

...to be continued (This is a work in progress)

*1 This filter is a useful heuristic within the cosmos, but it falls over badly in a theological sense when used as an argument for God; with its clear cut "natural forces" vs. "intelligent agency" distinction, God competes with his own creation as an agent of causation.
*2 In linear quantum mechanics there is symmetry between momentum space and geometric space, but in this node simulation of QM it is meaningless to talk about momentum space being composed of a set of mutually signaling nodes. In this simulation picture momentum emerges as a synthetic function of the gradient of the wave function.

On indistinguishability: The indistinguishability of fundamental particle makes the idea of the distinguishability of substance problematical. I suggest that quantum physics doesn't create any “substance” (whatever “substance” means) but rather creates configurations taken from the platonic realm. Distinguishability is a result of distinguishability of configuration and therefore identity of substance is bound up with identity of form.
On Fine Tuning: In the quantum mechanical equation in this article V is a given; so how do we know from the outset that a given V will support organic forms? The answer to this question may be along the lines of the Church-Turing thesis; namely, that there is such a thing as the universal construction set, a set that will build anything (or compute anything). Thus construction sets can be judged on whether or not they are universal construction set complete. We could define a “fine-tuned” construction set as one of those construction sets that is universal construction set complete. My guess is that there is probably an infinite number of universal construction sets. Conceivably, the space of all construction sets could itself be explored with a signaling system.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

The God of the Gaps is Alive but not Well

This is a trope that's very difficult to think round, for both atheist and theist alike.

In this post PZ Myers links to a critique of theism by someone called Greta Christina who finds four reasons why any form of theism (not just the anti-evolution type) is untenable. I haven’t got time to do justice to these posts so here are some quick thoughts on the four points.

ONE: It (theism) contradicts a central principle of the theory of evolution…. in evolution, there is no direction

My Comment: Wrong; evolution is very, very directional; if it wasn’t it simply wouldn’t work. The argument presented here is a bit like saying that railway rolling stock doesn’t have any direction because it can go both backward and forward. The line about “contradicting a central principle” smacks of the evangelical atheist tendency to sniff out what it thinks to be scientific heresy.

TWO: If there really were a Divine Tinkerer mucking about with evolution,…. we don’t see any signs whatsoever of outside intervention.

My Comment: Bad theology. Straight in with the false dichotomy of God vs Nature, the tinkerer vs.  insentient physical processes! IDist V J Torley will be pleased that this atheist probably agrees with him on something! True, there is little or no evidence for such a being! But here’s a thought to chew on:  The first person sense of conscious cognition is immanent to the brain, but try as I might the third person observer such as myself  never sees consciousness in the brains of other people but only neural activity. We may as well complain that there is no evidence for consciousness!

The last two points which now follow are interesting because they are basically bound up with the theology of the problem of pain and suffering, with an additional problem of “inefficient design” thrown in:

THREE and FOUR: You’ve got kangaroo molars, which wear out and get replaced — but only four times, after which the animals starve to death. You’ve got digger wasps laying their eggs in the living bodies of caterpillars — and stinging said caterpillars to paralyze them but not kill them, so the caterpillars die a slow death and can nourish the wasps’ larvae with their living bodies……. Evolution doesn’t give a damn about any of this. But God supposedly does. So why did he do it this way? If God is so powerful that he could bring all of existence into being simply by wishing it; if he’s so powerful that he can tinker with the genetics and circumstances of evolution simply by wishing it — why would he wish it to be so clumsy, half-assed, inefficient, jury-rigged, superfluous, and brutal?
And evolution is brutal. It’s not just that the results of the process are often uncomfortable, frustrating, even painful. The process itself is inherently brutal. The process ensures that most animals die in dreadful suffering and terror: they die from starvation, from injury, from disease, from birth defects, from being torn to pieces and devoured by other animals

My comment: The same old, same old lament: Why doesn’t God stop the pain (and the design bodging!) if he really exists? I don’t think I’m going make much impression on that problem here! But let me just say this: It is our cosmos with its logic of pain and bodging that has been dragged out of platonic possibility; you take it or leave it, and draw your theological conclusion accordingly. (The argument by fundamentalists about the Fall fails even on Biblical grounds – the serpent, the chaos beast, pre-exists man’s fall). Interestingly the reference to "God is so powerful that he could bring all of existence into being simply by wishing it" is very close to the fundamentalist magical idea that "God spoke" the universe into existence. That there might be some kind of obliging process logic and cost to a creation such as ours is never once considered.

Relevant Links:

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Intellectual Depravity

Would you trust your intellectual problems with this man?

The screen captures below from Ray Comfort’s Facebook page have provided PZ Myers’ readers with much amusement. The fact is, this Facebook material is evidence of the intellectually rundown state of Christian fundamentalism. Fundamentalist thought plumbs some intellectual lows and Comfort is certainly in one of those lows. For me it is very disquieting that for many a gullible Christian Comfort is the cutting edge of Christian thought. Part of the reason for this is that Comfort is not the sort of guy who is likely to be discouraged by his own manifest ignorance; his unquenchable self-confidence has done much to promote the cause of a plastic and epistemically arrogant Christianity. In fact for the kind of Christianity Comfort represents epistemic arrogance may well be thought of as just how an authentic confident faith should look.

Comfort’s faux pas over gravity is not the only dubious statement in these Facebook entries. The date of the Book of Job is uncertain; my evangelical IVP commentary says this about the Book of Job:

Uncertainty also shrouds the question of date. There is no direct references to historical events which might assist in dating the book.

It goes on to say that:

A. B. Davidson argues cogently that the reflective atmosphere of the book (of Job) and the knowledge of distant lands in it exclude a date earlier than the age of Solomon. He maintains that the probabilities favour the age of the captivity of Judah (597 BC). The suggested dates vary between 600 and 400 BC.

Ascribed by Jewish tradition to Moses, it is generally agreed by scholars that the book comes from the period between the 7th and 4th centuries BCE, with the 6th century as the most likely date for a variety of reasons.

As for the discovery of the spherical Earth, that too is surrounded with uncertainty, although if Wki is to be believed there are hints that the ancient Greeks were aware of it at about the same time of the conjectured date of Job:

Early Greek philosophers alluded to a spherical Earth, though with some ambiguity. Pythagoras (6th century BC) was among those said to have originated the idea, but this may reflect the ancient Greek practice of ascribing every discovery to one or another of their ancient wise men. Some idea of the sphericity of the Earth seems to have been known to both Parmenides and Empedocles in the 5th century BC, and although the idea cannot reliably be ascribed to Pythagoras, it may, nevertheless have been formulated in the Pythagorean School in the 5th century BC although some disagree. After the 5th century BC, no Greek writer of repute thought the world was anything but round.

If this is right then the concept of a spherical Earth was doing the rounds at about the same time the Book of Job was written. Therefore if indeed Job 26:7 refers to a spherical Earth floating in space there is no reason to appeal to anything other than historical normalcy to explain the Biblical reference. Comfort appears to have the sort of dualist faith that needs to find supernormal divine activity as a source of testimony to God. The idea that God is immanent and sovereign over a cosmos with or without the supernormal is not sufficiently comforting for Comfort’s garish and brash faith; his kind of faith needs the promotion of miraculous novelty such as God literally telling the writer of Job, in some miraculous revelation, that the Earth hangs in a void. But in actual fact it is not even clear that when the author of Job penned 26:7 whether or not he had in mind a picture of a spherical Earth that floats in space; the language is too ambiguous to determine that.

The Bible is a history of man’s struggle with the concept of God, a story managed by God’s sovereign will for the express purpose of revealing to us the way of salvation. In that story it is clear that the views of the author of Job were consistent with the cosmology of the day, a cosmology that was largely based on direct observation with little appeal to theory; this is also true of the book of Genesis.

The last three paragraphs of Comfort’s second Facebook post really hit rock bottom: Gravity is no less invisible in space than it is on Earth; both on Earth and in space gravity manifests itself through the motion of bodies.

Comfort’s scientific incompetence really shows when he talks of “evolutionary professors…..like gasping fish as they try to think of any evidence to back their unscientific belief”. I suspect these professors were lost for words at Comfort’s utter stupidity and couldn't think of how to even begin to explain things in a way that this anti-science buffoon could understand.

As I proposed here it seems that Comfort is absolutely clueless as to the role of evidence and how it fits in with the scientific endeavor; seldom do we proceed from evidence to theory; much more often we proceed from theory to evidence See also here.

Ray Comfort is as bad as the news gets for Christianity.