Sunday, July 23, 2017

Melencolia I Project Articles

I'm using this post to collect together the articles and papers I have produced for my Melencolia I series. I will update this post as I produce written items.  This will mean I can use a link to this post to give access to the whole series.


About the Melencolia I Project
In 1993, after nearly twenty years since my first encounter with quantum mechanics, I started investigating it once again. The urge to do this was brought on by a feeling that at last I just might have some insight as to the meaning of the strange world of quantum theory. This insight, if such it was, came out of my Thinknet Project, a project I had started in the 1980s. What piqued my interest was that the general structure of Thinknet theory, which in turn was based on some of ideas of the psychologist Edward de Bono, was reminiscent of quantum mechanics; in particular I fancied I saw in quantum mechanics a declarative structure not unlike my Thinknet simulations: Further detail on this matter can be found in the summing up sections of these papers here and here. To me it had started to look as if the standard imperative programming model was an inadequate metaphor for the cosmic physical laws, and instead we were dealing with something which had a declarative structure, a structure isomorphic with my Thinknet simulations. Some say the cosmos is a piece of intelligent design, but to me it had started to look more like the inside of a functioning intelligent process; so, less intelligent design, more the inside workings of a process of intelligent creation. If this was true then it would mean that the human perspective on the cosmos was a bit like the point of view of a neuro-scientist investigating the brain – down at the microscopic level the brain presents us with the relatively mundane operations of neurons, neuro-transmitters, electrical fields, signalling and the like; zooming in even further we find molecular chemistry; down at this level the traits we usually attribute to mind, namely intentionality, conscious sentience, purpose and teleology, dissolve into fragments, if indeed they appear to exist at all. In fact it’s a bit like aerial archaeology; viewed from on high the coherent patterns on the ground are clear to see, but at ground level they all but disappear. And yet those aerial patterns must somehow be impressed in subtle ground-level features, features which otherwise present a liminal threshold to the ground level observer.

Cognitive specialists are still trying put all the low level bits together in order to give a coherent third person account of the first person conscious perspective associated with the macroscopic mind. All said and done it seems that “Conscious cognition” is only meaningfully present at the integrated system level rather than the deconstructed component level observed by the third person. But there’s a paradox here; the third person scientific perspective presupposes the existence of the rational observer and scientific narrative constructor, which when traced back to its source itself entails a first person conscious perspective, the very thing under investigation. Ultimately the third person perspective presupposes a first person perspective and it’s easy to overlook this fact. Without an implicit full blown first person conscious perspective the third person account of the cosmos doesn’t make sense. In short, the third person perspective only makes sense if one presupposes the existence of an up-and-running rational first person perspective. 

If it’s a challenge to imagine how the details of the low-level biochemical perspective adds up to the integrated sentience of human beings then perhaps we have an inkling of the why, if the cosmos really is intelligence in action, we don’t readily see intentionality and teleology at work in the cosmos; we are simply too close to the stuff of the cosmos to perceive it. At first sight the cosmos looks to be an utterly meaningless and purposeless imperative computation, so much so that for many in the West there is no real substantive evidence of an immersive immanent intelligence surrounding us. In contrast I am offering, by way of an alternative (although admittedly it is a very long shot conjecture), that the cosmos is our low-level third person view of an intelligent declarative computation in operation; much like the low-level perspective a neuro-scientist has of the brain.

Human life only becomes coherent if one regards the first and third person perspectives as complimentary. If the third person examines a human being closely all they see is a complex network of biochemical structures and signals. But to make complete sense of this structure and its complex signalling network the third person must make an empathetic leap of the imagination; namely to understand that this system and its processes has a point by point conformity with the sensations & feelings of a first person perspective. But if we are going to make this empathetic leap with the human mind we may then be prompted to ask ourselves this question: Is our third person understanding of the cosmos, a cosmos with hints of a possibly declarative structure, also associated with some kind of first person perspective? This is a very speculative and conjectural leap but the beauty of being a private operator like myself is that there’s nothing to lose by seeing how much mileage one can get out of off-the-wall ideas like this. 

To allay the worries of Christian theologians about pantheism, none of this is to say that the cosmos is somehow to be identified with a sentient God; better to think of it as the manifestation of God’s thoughts about the cosmos, a cosmos which perhaps runs in the divine mind in a similar way a story runs in the mind of an author. The point of view I’m probing here is very different to that of the Intelligent Design creationists of North America who have adopted a dualistic intelligence-of-the-gaps procedure which means their inquiry stops dead once they have decided that they can’t see how so called “natural forces” give account of an object in question. In contrast I’m proposing those so-called natural forces are part of an intelligent process; hence I prefer to think of myself as heralding intelligent creation rather than intelligent design. What also sets me very much apart from de facto intelligent design is that I have to confess my ideas are highly speculative and very conjectural. I’m involved in the investigation of a hunch, a hunch which provides no pretext to spiritually abuse those who are not inclined to believe it. Moreover, I’m not coy in suggesting that the intelligence behind the conjectured intelligent cosmic processes would to all human intents and purposes be divine. Therefore I’m making no pretension to doing formal science. This is an entirely informal epistemic endeavour which can only offer a tentative take-it-or-leave-it post-facto sense making narrative (See here). Unlike the IDists and the so-called "creation scientists" I'm not making any claim to being God's gift to science. I'm a science hobbyist doing the equivalent of building a light aircraft in his shed hoping that one day it may fly, but not needing to invest too much in that hope because in the final analysis it has to be about the journey, not the destination: For, in by far and away the greater number of human endeavors a project's journey's end is about failure, not success. Therefore I'm expecting my own efforts to likely end in failure. But then as George Bernard Shaw said:

"A life spent making mistakes is not only more honourable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing."

Critique of "Intelligent Design"
In this post I discussed some ideas by one of the de-facto IDist, Robert Sheldon. Because de facto ID conceives intelligence as a black box eminent to the objects it “designs” de facto ID has a philosophical blockage toward paradigms which may venture to propose that “natural forces” have any significant role in the formation of life. In the weltanschauung of de facto ID  “natural forces”, so-called, play a minimal role in the formation of life. Rather, in their view you need an external intelligent homunculus to do that. The idea that the world around us be so immersed in the mind of God that there is no humanly discernible distinction between scaffolding and building, between natural forces and intelligence, hasn’t occurred to them. The outcome is that the de-facto IDists are thoroughly committed to showing the inadequacy of “natural forces” to generate life:  The IDist epistemic is embodied in their “explanatory filter” which obliges them to preserve those enigmatic gaps in law and disorder science at all costs. In line with this negative tradition IDist Robert Sheldon pointed out that a random walk search, a search which proceeds to expand into its search space in proportion to the square root of time is too slow to be up to the task of finding viable living structures via evolution. The reason why random walk search is so slow is that as it proceeds the number of routes it has to explore goes up exponentially. But Sheldon’s obvious philosophical motive was to trash the idea that “Evolution did it” via random walk in favour of his belief that “God Intelligence did it”. But just how that intelligence did it the IDists do not say because they consider the detailed nature of intelligence to be beyond their terms of reference; it's almost as if the nature of intelligence is far too sacred ground for them to investigate.

In the Intelligent Design paradigm  intelligence and so-called “natural forces” are part of an unbridgeable dichotomy. It hasn’t occurred to IDists that just as the particulate low-end details of brain dynamics provides clues as to its high end operation, those so called “natural forces” we see at work across the cosmos may contain valuable clues about the operation of an intelligent process. In my blog post I've linked to I pointed out that Sheldon was reckoning without quantum mechanics; for not only does quantum mechanics have huge potential by way of its expanding parallelism, its wave motion has the effect of cancelling out the immense combinatorial sink of randomness. Thus quantum mechanics scores on at least two counts, namely a) Exponential resources and b) The cancellation of randomness. The second count means that its wave envelopes expand not with the square root of time but linearly in time. Although I would ultimately agree with Sheldon that non-locality is involved as per a declarative computational paradigm which ultimately selects from a huge array of search items, it is those so called “natural forces” which have an absolutely crucial searching role in the return of those outcomes.

The de facto ID community represented by the likes of websites such as Uncommon Descent and The Discovery Institute talk obliquely of a mysterious Intelligent Agent being the likely default means of explanation when our understanding of "natural forces" is (currently) unable to account for a phenomenon. Of course, everyone knows that these people are really talking about God and the IDists' studied detachment from theology comes over as an affectation, disingenuous even. Talking vaguely about "Intelligent causes", however, does give a scientific gloss to their work; after all, it is true that archaeology is in the business of separating out the "natural" from the "artificial". Moreover, if ever an obviously empirical situation should arise like that depicted in 2001 Space Odyssey, the question of intelligence and the nature of that intelligence would loom large in scientific circles. So arguably "Intelligent Design" is a little like archaeology and SETI and  therefore does have a prima facia claim to being  science. 

But of course we know that the de facto IDists are really thinking theologically and that is where lie their mistakes: They have in fact committed scientific, tactical and theological errors. Their error is scientific because their epistemic filter is misconceived; this misconception  leads into a natural forces vs God dichotomy which in turn helps foster scientific blunders such as the claim that evolution is inconsistent with the 2nd law of thermodynamics. Their error is tactical because their pretense at doing science uncontaminated by theology is just that; a pretense and everyone, especially atheists, can see it. Their error is theological because God is both immanent and eminent and therefore He is immanent in natural forces. It follows then that we can seek God in those so-called natural forces and not just as an ancillary outside intelligent agent; or perhaps I should say that those "natural forces" are in God. For God is the eminent and immanent context of all that his authorship permits reification in the story He tells. The immanence of God means that he is of an entirely different genus to any ancillary intelligence such as man or aliens; if we are theologically turned on then we don't expect ancillary intelligence or humunculus intelligence to be a good model for God. 

In order to maintain a scientific gloss we find that IDists will often try to avoid mention of God in their works. Not only has this tactic miserably failed but I believe it is impossible for the Christian to carry on like this. If we are dealing with immanent intelligence and not just ancillary intelligence this subject cannot be approached without mention of the immanent Sovereign Manager and Creator. That's not a mistake I intend to make myself. My project is explicit about seeking the Sovereign Manager and Creator of our cosmos. I therefore make explicit mention of Him. Also, unlike the IDists I am not making strong claims of doing exclusively science (although some parts will be science) since my epistemology is far more broad brush than spring extending and test tube precipitating scienceThis will mean that any atheist who dislikes the idea of a Sovereign God being at the heart of a study will not find grounds for accusing me of trying to pull the wool over his/her eyes. There is one thing worse than a deceiver and that is the incompetent deceiver who is oblivious to the fact that his attempt at deceiving is so obvious.

So all in all I've become increasingly displeased with the de facto ID movement and their transparent facade of studied scientific detachment. But I'm in good company: I don't think Sir John Polkinghorne is pleased with them either

Main Papers and Articles of the Melencolia I Project

Supporting and Relevant Articles
Configuration space Series
William Dembski’s views:
Felsenstein vs. Dembski
Felsenstein and English vs. Dembski, Ewart and Marks

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