Monday, February 27, 2006

ID- Foundational Issues

1. The definition of science.
Is design type thinking permitted in science? Is science necessarily methodologically naturalistic? Has science always been methodologically naturalistic? Is there a close alliance between methodological naturalism and philosophical naturalism?

2. The problem of a reigning paradigm.
Is there a real problem in the whole scientific enterprise that basically we are like sheep and we like to be in groups that all believe the same things? Is there such a thing as scientific dogmatic slumber? Is there a “waking up to battle” going on amongst Darwinists? Is there a serious reflection upon and an assembly of the best arguments? Is there a cut and thrust of good hard argument and debate? Is this a very good thing or a complete waste of valuable time? Could this have happened at as fundamental a level without ID? Is there is as much need of fight to maintain a free market of ideas in science as there is to maintain a free market of goods?

3. Education- who decides what is taught? .
Who should have the responsibility of determining what children are taught regarding the origin of humanity and the origin of living organisms and the origin of space, matter, time and energy? Are parents the ones who should have this responsibility or is this a responsibility best given to the state? Should a state impose a curriculum on all educational activity by force of law? Is the idea of the secular state effectively and practically the establishment of state atheism? Is education an inherently religious activity? Does a state school system imply a state “religion” whether it be Atheism, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity or Paganism? Are there clear examples of “propagandistic” activity in the historical teaching of neo-darwinism in biology some of which continue to be taught unchallenged?

4. Macro-evolution evidence. Origin of Life evidence.
Are we right to give the impression that basically the problem of the origin of morphological novelty and complexity has been solved by neo-darwinism? Are we right to give the impression that we know there are perfectly acceptable naturalistic routes to the first living organism?

5. The “Privileged Planet” type of arguments.
Can a legitimate set of arguments be assembled from the structure and position of this planet and from the idea of cosmological fine tuning of constants for some kind of teleology in science? (I am not personally very familiar with these arguments and this type of reasoning but I include it for completeness.)

38 Comments:

Blogger Mike Godfrey said...

Hi Andrew
so many questions in one post!
Surely the answer is 42 ?
The main question is regarding Methodical naturalism -the enlightenment inspired methodology that assumes 2 things:
1.objectivity on the part of the experiment designer and observer.
2.a closed universe.
Big assumptions!
I acknowledge that many theories such as the speed of sound or planetary distances are neutral, without a bias or metaphysical implications.
Of course no one arrives at an experiment or more importantly a theory without presuppositions... so no experiment is entirely without bias on the part of the experimenter.
Thinking of the fine tuning argument of design heres a quote from John Polkinghorne:
'...we know that there has to have been a very close balance between the competing effect of explosive expansion and gravitational contraction which, at the very earliest epoch about which we can even pretend to speak (called the Planck time, 10exp.43 sec. after the big bang), would have corresponded to the incredible degree of accuracy represented by a deviation in their ratio from unity by only one part in 10 to the sixtieth.'
I wouldn't bet on those odds through chance alone.
Just one factor out of so many others that needed to be just right.
To my mind a main reason string theory or M theory and multiverse theories abound is in order to avoid the fine tuning argument (such as the quote above) and its conclusion of an intelligent designer.
As Gerald Coates (who nicked his quote from Orwell-allegedly ) once said 'Propaganda is the news of the Victor' avoiding design implications is possibly necessary for the dominating naturalistic world view of the west to prevail.
Here's the Principle of Indifference as expounded by McMullin -he says:
This Principle of Indifference isn't easy to state exactly; an essential part of it, however, is the idea that physical theory should avoid anything like those cosmic coincidences, these apparent fine-tunings, with their implicit suggestions of design.
So is it remotely possible that a theory can be carried forward from the morass (great word) of theories waiting to hit the the big time -purely because of its metaphysical implications?

11:21 am  
Blogger Lifewish said...

Cos I'm bored, here's an uberlist of my answers :)

1

Is design type thinking permitted in science?

Yes, but it needs to make at least as many predictions as the equivalent non-design-type thinking to be useful. If it's not useful, science isn't going to be interested.

Is science necessarily methodologically naturalistic?

There's no point in science considering things that aren't susceptible to the scientific method - it just isn't terribly useful. Things of that sort are more properly within the domain of philosophy. This saves scientists from having to waste their time wondering if we live in the Matrix, or how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, or whatever.

Thus, even if ID were true, until it starts demonstrating that the Designer is susceptible to the scientific method - or at least that limits to the Designer's power can be scientifically discerned - it won't be science. I'd go further and say that, by postulating an arbitrarily powerful entity with no clearly defined boundary of action, it is in fact scientifically nihilistic.

Is there a close alliance between methodological naturalism and philosophical naturalism?

It's an interesting question. I'd tend to say no because, to some extent, we're all supporters of methodological naturalism regardless of philosophical affiliation. When you wake up in the morning and detect a complicated pattern of light of various frequencies on your retina, you don't generally wonder if God is beaming those patterns directly onto your retina. That wouldn't be terribly useful - if it's all just a pretty pattern of coloured light, there's no way to use it to spot that you're about to stub your toe on the bed.

Philosophical naturalism, by contrast, is the elevation of this concept of usefulness into a universal, and in some sense a moral, truth (even if an unsupportable belief isn't harmful, it's considered bad for the brain). I think that there is a strong difference between that and mere 100% consistent application of methodological naturalism. The latter might say that belief in an all-powerful and inherently unpredictable God isn't scientifically useful; the former would say that it is actively wrong.

I'd tend to agree with this position, but I'm strongly aware that it is actually a philosophical position.

2

Is there a real problem in the whole scientific enterprise that basically we are like sheep and we like to be in groups that all believe the same things?

The scientific community has spent some time building up a system whereby leaving the herd, if it leads to helpful new discoveries, is actively rewarded. I'd say, therefore, that this is far less of an issue than in most other groups, which is of course part of the reason why the scientific community has had so much positive impact on quality of life over the past couple of hundred years.

Is there such a thing as scientific dogmatic slumber?

Possibly, but no-one's ever seen its footprints. Certainly there's not going to be a dogmatic slumber in an issue such as this one where so many people, including biologists, have an instinctive emotional connection to the "underdog" group. In that sort of situation, the scientific orthodoxy can be expected to be even more watertight than usual.

If it wasn't, and if evolutionary biology was in denial over this, it would quickly become obvious to those in tangentially related fields, and they would fast lose all respect for EB. That this has not happened is a sign either that EB is not in dogmatic slumber or that the entire scientific community is broken. Since the scientific community is still churning out predictive theories and interesting discoveries, I conclude that the former is more likely.

Is there a "waking up to battle" going on amongst Darwinists?

Many scientists in many areas of science (climate scientists for example) are starting to realise that just doing science and hoping that their credibility speaks for itself doesn't cut much ice with a worryingly high proportion of people, and that they need to be more aware of the PR techniques that are so ubiquitous in the arsenals of challengers of science.

If, however, you meant that there was a waking up to a legitimate scientific controversy, the answer is a definitive no.

Is there a serious reflection upon and an assembly of the best arguments?

If you mean dialectically "best" the answer is that that's something that scientists, including evolutionary biologists, do anyway.

If you mean rhetorically "best" arguments then you've put your thumb on a minor schism in the scientific community. Some people think that science should be actively marketing itself to the general public. Others feel that the dark arts of PR are intrinsically damaging to science, and should be avoided at all costs. I feel both sides have good points - it's darkly ironic that science is being undermined by its own reluctance to play the marketing game.

Is there a cut and thrust of good hard argument and debate?

Some, but it's generally amongst people (such as myself) who have no formal training in the fields in question.

Is this a very good thing or a complete waste of valuable time?

For me, it's a good thing - I've learned a lot about both evolution, debating technique and my own views on philosophical issues. For an evolutionary biologist it's almost certainly a waste of valuable time.

Could this have happened at as fundamental a level without ID?

The "civilian" debate probably wouldn't have (except to the extent that, if ID hadn't come along, Scientific Creationism would probably still be going strong). The debate among evolutionary biologists about various areas of EB would have been as strong as ever.

Is there is as much need of fight to maintain a free market of ideas in science as there is to maintain a free market of goods?

I'd say that there's a need to maintain academic freedom, but that the pool of scientific ideas is fairly self-replenishing. Science tends to home in on the most accurate answer, so an apparent lack of diversity in the meme pool isn't too worrying - it's to be expected, or someone isn't doing their job.

3

This is an area that I'm still thinking about myself, so I'll pass on answering the questions, except for:

Are there clear examples of “propagandistic” activity in the historical teaching of neo-darwinism in biology some of which continue to be taught unchallenged?

Not to the best of my knowledge. I know there's lots of claims that this is the case, but they all seem to have been pretty thoroughly taken apart.

There are a couple of claims that originally had merit - for example, that Mendel's gardeners fudged the results of his experiments, or that the drawings of embryos in Haeckel's textbook weren't 100% true to life - but to the best of my knowledge all of these have been rectified, some centuries ago.

4

Are we right to give the impression that basically the problem of the origin of morphological novelty and complexity has been solved by neo-darwinism?

I'd say yes. More detail available on request (to avoid completely derailing this thread).

Are we right to give the impression that we know there are perfectly acceptable naturalistic routes to the first living organism?

No, but we'd be right to give the impression that this is a theory that has lasted an impressively long time without being falsified (no prehistoric alien spacecraft have yet been found :P), so is probably accurate.

5

Can a legitimate set of arguments be assembled from the structure and position of this planet and from the idea of cosmological fine tuning of constants for some kind of teleology in science?

IMO no, because:
1) we don't know enough about conditions elsewhere in the universe to know whether our planet is particularly unique (if there's massive numbers of planets suitable for life, it's only a matter of time before it starts somewhere)

2) we don't have any information at all about how many universes there are and whether life of a different sort could have arisen had the laws of nature been different.

This all makes it fairly hard to comment either way. Some of the questions are fairly intractable so, if you were looking for a gap to insert God into, this would be a good choice.

Those questions were fun to think about. Thanks :)

5:48 pm  
Blogger allygally said...

Andrew

Forgive, in advance, my crude, non -scientific approach to your well thought-out questions.

Intelligent Design has two foundational issues.

First: ID is not science. Science is necessarily methodoligical naturalistic. When it was less than rigouruosly naturalistic, (magic, alchemy, astrology) it was much less successful in describing the real world. It was only when Kepler put his theoretical insights alongside Brahe's observational genius that we got a true picture of the solar system, and a glimpse of the possible universe. Note: Brahe's observations were at least as impoprtant as Kepler's scientific thinking. Newton stood on the shoulders of these giants and we got the modern world. In re-introducing a supernational element into the argument, (god, aliens, Slartybartfast, whatever),ID places itself outside the definition of science.

The second problem of ID is its purpose. In science, an idea is formed by an individual or a group, or it develops from some existing source. If the idea has promise it is worked into a hypothesis and may eventually become accepted.

Not so for ID. The people at the Discovery Institute looked at the legal problems, (as they saw it) of getting creationism taught in US schools. They needed a vehicle to do that and, by ressurecting the Rev william Paley, they came up with ID. In other words, ID did not originate as a scientific response to a scientific problem, it arose as a political response to a legal / political problem.

All the rest is blowing smoke, unless you frame it within an overtly religious forum. ID is theology: discuss.

10:04 am  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...

Allygally,

When a scientist investigates the orgin of Stonehenge may he consider ID?

If a Stonehenge like structure spun into the solar system may a scientist consider ID?

11:01 am  
Blogger allygally said...

Andrew Rowell said...

"When a scientist investigates the orgin of Stonehenge may he consider ID?

If a Stonehenge like structure spun into the solar system may a scientist consider ID?"

A scientist is a human being. He/she can consider any motivation they wish. If I saw Stonehenge I would imediately think: "I wonder who built that?" I would then look for the evidence. If the precedents were that other ancient buildings had been built by god, I would consider that. But there is no evidence that the pyramids of Egypt or Mexico, or the Roman Forum or the Parthenon, were built by god (or aliens or slartybatrtfast). I would then be left with the conclusion that it would be best to direct my efforts along naturalistic lnes, this being the route suggested by the best existing evidence, and most likely to produce concrete results.

If, on the other hand, I stuck to supernatural lines of enquiry, I would never conclusively prove who the builder was. I might, as a matter of faith, believe that I had discovered the hand of god. I might even be able to persuade my co-religionists, but I could never prove it scientifically.

If I found Stonehenge orbiting the Moon, I would follow exactly the same method of enquiry, with exactly the same logical outcome.

As my old grannie used to say "It's not rocket science".

11:41 am  
Blogger Lifewish said...

If a Stonehenge like structure spun into the solar system may a scientist consider ID?

If there's no evidence that that structure can arise by natural means then I'd say yes (if it can arise by natural means then they're in breach of Occam's Razor). However, the onus would then be on that scientist to start making falsifiable assertions about the nature and limitations of the aliens, as well as to attempt to falsify his design inference by pondering ways in which it could have formed naturally.

Just saying "yup, it looks designed, so let's stop investigating it" would be wholly unacceptable.

2:24 pm  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...

Lifewish,
"Just saying "yup, it looks designed, so let's stop investigating it" would be wholly unacceptable."

Do design inferences ever work like that?

6:29 pm  
Blogger Lifewish said...

Lifewish,
"Just saying "yup, it looks designed, so let's stop investigating it" would be wholly unacceptable."

Do design inferences ever work like that?


Not in the real world. However, I have yet to see the DI do any work on trying to figure out the where, when, how, who and why of their supposed design inferences. They seem to think that making a rarefied design inference should be enough for anybody.

A relevant quote from Dembski:
”You’re asking me to play a game: ‘Provide as much detail in terms of possible causal mechanisms for your ID position as I do for my Darwinian position.’ ID is not a mechanistic theory, and it’s not ID’s task to match your pathetic level of detail in telling mechanistic stories.”

To me, this reads like an attempt to scribble "here be dragons" on the scientific map, coincidentally in a location that a vocal minority of religious people would prefer science not to be able to journey to.

6:58 pm  
Anonymous Farshad said...

Are we right to give the impression that basically the problem of the origin of morphological novelty and complexity has been solved by neo-darwinism?

No! It's far from being solved. It requieres a high level of wishful thinking to believe in darwinist mechanisms of complexity generation.

Evolution theory is the only field in science (well if it is science!) that claims information can arise out of randomness.
There is no computer software or model that can randomly produce useful information with a blind selection mechanism as darwinists claim.

The probability of dust carried by the wind reproducing Dürer’s “Melancholia” is less infinitesimal than the probability of copy errors in the DNA molecules leading to the formation of the eye; besides, these errors had no relationship whatsoever with the function that the eye would have to perform or was starting to perform. There is no law against daydreaming, but science must not indulge in it [Pierre Grasse, Evolution of Living Organisms (Academic Press, 1977)].

Are we right to give the impression that we know there are perfectly acceptable naturalistic routes to the first living organism?

No! However since there is no law against daydreaming you will see a bunch of theories coming in and out of fashion. None of them has ever been proved or even came close to be probable.
The problem here as always is that darwinists have limited the abigenesis to the material world. They will never understand that without an intelligent touch randomness will never produce information.

The creationist astronomer George Mulfinger put it, the evolutionist's claim must be that "hydrogen is an odorless, tasteless, invisible gas which, if given enough time, becomes people"

Science dominated by naturalism only gives credit to theories with a materialist view. Life is not only a mixture of chemicals. If abiogenisis would be possible we could take amino-acids, proteins, DNA and all necessary parts from existing living cells, mix them in a lab and produce life from dead materials. Although we would have all necessary parts and chemicals we know that nothing would happen.
How could nature start with no parts at all and create life?

2:45 pm  
Blogger Lifewish said...

Evolution theory is the only field in science (well if it is science!) that claims information can arise out of randomness.

If you're talking about Shannon information, which is the most commonly-used mathematical formulation of information (and is, for example, central to Information Theory) then well over half of all errors are going to increase the information content of a string. This is a result of information being defined as the inverse log of the probability of a word.

I can describe this back-of-the envelope calculation in greater depth if desired. My main point, however, is that your assertion is just that - an assertion - until you provide an actual definition of information. You're obviously not using the one that all the mathematicians I know use.

I would ask you to provide me with this definition before repeating the information-cannot-be-created assertion because, as a mathematics student who has actually devoted time to studying how information works, I find it intensely irritating when people parrot this claim.

The probability of dust carried by the wind reproducing Dürer’s “Melancholia” is less infinitesimal than the probability of copy errors in the DNA molecules leading to the formation of the eye; besides, these errors had no relationship whatsoever with the function that the eye would have to perform or was starting to perform. There is no law against daydreaming, but science must not indulge in it [Pierre Grasse, Evolution of Living Organisms (Academic Press, 1977)].

I call shenanigans. The Nilsson and Pelger paper* showed that there is at least one plausible evolutionary path from light-sensitive cells to a complex (fish) eye such that every single tiny step en route represents an improvement in eye functionality. That means that the formation of an eyelike structure may even be an inevitability when you throw evolution into the mix.

Wonderful rhetoric, shame it's complete balls.

No! However since there is no law against daydreaming you will see a bunch of theories coming in and out of fashion. None of them has ever been proved or even came close to be probable.

I'd tend to agree with the "no" here, with the caveat that the hypotheses for abiogenesis aren't just daydreams and are in fact built on actual evidence found and actual experiments performed by actual scientists in the actual real world.

The problem here as always is that darwinists have limited the abigenesis to the material world. They will never understand that without an intelligent touch randomness will never produce information.

If you don't want the hypotheses of abiogenesis to be limited to the material world, all you need to to is provide a non-materialistic hypothesis of abiogenesis that makes more predictions than its materialistic compadres. That's all. If the materialistic premise is so very wrong, that really shouldn't be hard.

The same challenge goes for evolution too. The way to get scientists to believe that design is involved is to show that design makes better predictions than evolution. I should note that "better" has a fairly high threshold value at the moment, what with evolutionary predictions relating to human chromosome numbers and vitamin C genes relatively recently confirmed. Making handwavey** "rarefied design inferences" on the basis of precisely zero actual evidence is just gonna make real scientists laugh though.

I'm not gonna comment on your repeated abuse of the concept of information, as that'll just make me cranky.

The creationist astronomer George Mulfinger put it, the evolutionist's claim must be that "hydrogen is an odorless, tasteless, invisible gas which, if given enough time, becomes people"

Simplistic but cute. I'll have to remember that one.

Science dominated by naturalism only gives credit to theories with a materialist view.

Science as a whole is not prone to giving credit to theories that a) make no predictions and b) assume apparently-unnecessary entities (witness the row occurring in cosmology over dark matter and galaxy rotation). This has, over the years, shown itself to be a fairly effective policy - you can't expect to control electricity if you think lightning bolts are Zeus' spears, and you can't expect to prevent the spread of disease if you think it's caused by demons.

If abiogenisis would be possible we could take amino-acids, proteins, DNA and all necessary parts from existing living cells, mix them in a lab and produce life from dead materials.

And if crystal formation were possible, we could take an amethyst, crush it to powder, swill it round in a bowl with a little water and expect it to reform, right? So obviously amethysts were formed by angels. Hey, maybe that means they have healing powers!

I must admit, though, that the situation is less clear-cut in the biological case cos, if you did the experiment you suggested with sufficient quantities of biochemicals, you probably would get a few self-replicating chemicals appearing, which could theoretically be considered to be a sort of very basic proto-life.

How could nature start with no parts at all and create life?

We're working on it. Maybe some day we'll even have a complete answer. Maybe some day we will indeed discover that it's impossible. However, telling us that we might as well give up now doesn't do anyone much good.

* As before, I have a copy of this paper on my computer which I of course will not pass on to anyone cos that would breach copyright. If you would like it not passed on to you, send your email address to ajl59 AT cam.ac.uk so I can be sure I don't accidentally mail it to you.

** Remember, I'm a maths student, I know handwavey when I see it :P As always, more detail available on request.

10:15 pm  
Anonymous Farshad said...

What is the information?

The information is a special and unique arrangement of data that makes them meaningful from an intelligent point of view. The information is coded form of intelligence.

The information is always useful for something. It can be a piece of paper with instructions to cook a cake. A book or a music CD.

All of the above contain information and we know they are created by intelligence or a reflection of it.

On the other hand randomness is by definition a random arrangement of data which has no meaning or practical use.

A DVD disk contains 48,000,000,000 bits of information. Only one special arrangement of those bits can produce the movie "The Lord of the Rings", another special arrangement will produce a "James Bond" movie but %99.99 of those arrangements will not produce anything but a white noise on your DVD player (or even not play at all).

All possible arrangemnts of those bits could produce as much as DVD disks that could fill all the void in our known universe or even in all parallel unknown universes.

Human DNA contains 6,000,000,000 of basepairs that only one special arrangement of them can produce human. %99.99 of other DNA arrangments would produce nothing.

That is what we call information from an information theory point of view.

And if crystal formation were possible, we could take an amethyst, crush it to powder, swill it round in a bowl with a little water and expect it to reform, right? So obviously amethysts were formed by angels. Hey, maybe that means they have healing powers!

A nice straw man of yours here :)
It is completely known to us that how crystals are formed. You can grow as much as you want in your kitchen.
Sugar molecules can form sugar crystals in right conditions. One can say that Sugar molecules know how to form crystals. They have the required instructions built-in to turn into crystals. It's not a mystery to us. However you still can not identify where is the source of that inherited intelligence built-in sugar molecules that allows them to grow and form crystals.

Although it looks quiet natural the source of mechanisms behind crystal forming is still unkown.
Who designed that incridble atomic structures of materials that allows them to form such different structures?

Now lets come back to the biology.
Can you say that amino-acids have the internal ability to form proteins required for life?
Sugar molecules know how to form crystals but there is no known property of amino-acids that allows them to form meaningful polymers. The whole process must be random.

This is the main flaw of Evolutionists that they confuse "comlexity that constains information like DNA chains" with "molecular orders that contain no information like crystals and snowflakes".

Lets put it all togather:

-Crystal forming is a process that is possible within natural limits of molecules forming that crystal. i.e. those molecules know how to form crystals as totally documented in any material science book. Also do not forget the fact that crystal forming does not produce any new information. Molecules only re-order themselves.

-The process of amino-acids forming proteins in no way can be performed naturally. Because amino acids doesn't have any internal knowledge or built-in property to form meaningful proteins that contains information. No matter what type of energy you apply to them. The only way to produce protein is a very special intelligent and directed process

Miller experiment clearly showed us that natural limits of those gases used in experiment can only produce random amino-acids. Because in nature those molecules only know how to bind and form random aminoacids. They do not know how to produce life.

Put some milk, add some banana, strawberry, sugar and whatever else you like. Shake and blend them and you get a tasty milkshake. That's what Miller did in his experiment. A chemical milkshake.

The Nilsson and Pelger paper showed that there is at least one plausible evolutionary path from light-sensitive cells to a complex (fish) eye such that every single tiny step en route represents an improvement in eye functionality.

We also have the following regarding Nilsson and Pleger:

A Scientific Scandal
http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/?command=view&id=1408

I must admit, though, that the situation is less clear-cut in the biological case cos, if you did the experiment you suggested with sufficient quantities of biochemicals, you probably would get a few self-replicating chemicals appearing, which could theoretically be considered to be a sort of very basic proto-life.

I'm sorry this is not that easy.
Mixing required base chemicals will not form any replicators. Producing a self replicating polymer needs a very special process that can only be done in controlled conditions of a lab that passes through several directed steps.

Afterall for sake of science what is the selective advantage of a self-replicator to survive and evolve?
Can anyone claim that self-replicators have a will to live and evolve and become living cells?

12:05 am  
Blogger Lifewish said...

The information is a special and unique arrangement of data that makes them meaningful from an intelligent point of view. The information is coded form of intelligence.

That definition doesn't even remotely approach rigour. Please explain to me how we put a number to this concept. Please demonstrate to me that this number can't increase.

What you've just described reads to me as "we know evolution can't happen because that would imply an undefined quantity was increasing, and we know that can't happen because... we just do, OK?" Your definition may or may not be useful to this discussion, but I can personally guarantee that if you tried fobbing it off on an information theorist they'd laugh you out of the building.

That is what we call information from an information theory point of view.

Bollocks it is, pardon my French. That is not a definition of information that any information theorists I've met or been taught by subscribes to. If you want to redefine the word then fair enough, but don't then claim that you're backed up by a community of mathematicians who actually believe something completely different.

A nice straw man of yours here :)
It is completely known to us that how crystals are formed. You can grow as much as you want in your kitchen.


And it's not completely known how life is formed, but it's a fair bet to say that, as with amethysts, it's not just a matter of taking all the component parts and mixing them up. I therefore stand by my analogy - it was your claim that was the straw man. Saying that life does not emerge from milkshake under everyday conditions is not a refutation of abiogenesis, for the same reason that saying amethysts don't emerge from powder under everyday conditions is not a refutation of crystal formation.

Although it looks quiet natural the source of mechanisms behind crystal forming is still unkown.
Who designed that incridble atomic structures of materials that allows them to form such different structures?


Uh... have you actually looked at quantum mechanics at all? Although we can't fully solve the equations yet, it's broadly accepted that these incredible structures are the natural result of some fairly simple patterns of interaction between quantum particles (which, when you think about it, is directly analogous to evolution). If you want to believe that God deliberately created a self-assembling universe then feel free, but there's absolutely no reason to believe that He's busily interfering with either crystal formation or evolution on a day-to-day basis.

The process of amino-acids forming proteins in no way can be performed naturally. Because amino acids doesn't have any internal knowledge or built-in property to form meaningful proteins that contains information.

I'd point out, again, that technically neither do sugar molecules. The tasty crystalline structures could be described as an emergent product of the simple behaviours of electrons, protons and neutrons.

However, I'll address the question directly. The way you're defining information, as far as I can tell, seems to be that a string has high information if, when interpreted, it achieves a purpose. In the case of biological systems the purpose in question will ultimately be to improve the efficacy of the organism at surviving. Let me rephrase that: all you're talking about is the ability of a DNA sequence (or whatever) to aid the survival of the organism of which it is part.

If you'd bothered to muck about with genetic algorithms for a bit, you'd know that this is precisely the sort of setup that evolution is ridiculously efficient at producing. All you need for evolution is a replicating object, imperfect heredity and some sort of selective procedure. Once you have these, information (as defined by you) is the natural result.

If you'll provide an actual rigorous definition of information, I'm sure I could work through the maths for you.

We also have the following regarding Nilsson and Pleger:
A Scientific Scandal


Which consists of the assertion that Nilsson and Pelger's paper has been misrepresented. I'd tentatively support that - it seems that at some point someone misread it and a bunch of other people copied the mistake.

However, as discussed to death elsewhere on this blog, that's not a problem for the paper itself. The paper clearly demonstrates that the continuous, locally-optimising path I referred to above actually exists for the case of the fish eye. That is all that's required to demonstrate that the fish eye is, in principle at least, evolvable from a light-sensing patch.

I'm sorry this is not that easy.
Mixing required base chemicals will not form any replicators.


Again, I call shenanigans. If you're talking about conditions where polymerisation is possible, then sufficient amino acid is going to eventually produce this sequence:
RMKQLEEKVYELLSKVACLEYEVARLKKVGE. That's a self-replicator. There are probably ones that are significantly shorter.

If you're talking about conditions where polymerisation is not possible then we have an entirely different debate on our hands, which will require discussion of polymerisation on mineral substrates and the like. Please enlighten me as to which is bothering you.

Afterall for sake of science what is the selective advantage of a self-replicator to survive and evolve?
Can anyone claim that self-replicators have a will to live and evolve and become living cells?


No, but the ones that become more efficient at copying and at not being used for spare parts by other copyers will tend to replicate the most and will pass those tendencies on to their "children". This is evolution 101, for crying out loud.

The evolutionary hypothesis is that there's a continuous locally-optimal evolutionary path leading from these primitive self-replicators to actual cells. If you can demonstrate that that hypothesis is false then feel free to try, but anything else doesn't come across as being terribly well-informed.

2:13 am  
Anonymous Farshad said...

I don't have enough time to reply all of your post but you seem to persist on what you beleieve you know. That's ok!

That is the Evolutin Theory: The science of persistance on flaws!

One final try!

Please explain to me how we put a number to this concept.

If you are a math student. You must know that there is no exact theorem or mathematical path to identify information and seperate it from noise. We just can use some basic models to identify useful data from non-useful ones. Since the mathematics still can not model the human intelligence it also can not answer your question.

However you implied you know the answer, please let us know what your math theorists know about the exact predictive methods to identify the information. We are all ears (or eyes!)

Uh... have you actually looked at quantum mechanics at all?

It seems this debate has become pointless. You don't grasp my point. You imply that I don't know what quantum is! If you fully re-read it I just told the source of all those magical world of electrons, protons and quantum mechanics is still unknown. My statement stated that we don't know the source. I didn't say we don't know the laws. ok?

but I can personally guarantee that if you tried fobbing it off on an information theorist they'd laugh you out of the building.

Nice! I'm a software engineer, coded nearly 400,000 lines and I don't know what information is?


Funny! You just didn't even understand my simplified version of definintion for information i.e. "IT for dummies". The below will expose your ignornace regarding the real definition of information.

The mathematical definition for information doesn't care about what subset of the data will contain a set of meaningful data i.e. information and what will contain only noise.

It is an application dependent and system specific matter to put an exact definition for the information.

Now read the below carefully:

There is no mathematical theorm to tell us a way to distinguish between useful information and random data. It is human intelligence that can see the difference between these types of data. According to a specific system a set of data can be considered as useful information that will go under process.

That's how you abuse the mathmatical definition of the information. You just imply us that any set of data may contain useful and meaningful information independent of any specific system. Laughable! Even the layman knows that it's not true.

In signal processing systems that I'm quite familiar with them (sorry! that engineer thing again) We know signal and noise are two seperate things however we can't put and exact definition for the signal. Signal roughly is the desired data that has an intelligence source, noise is a random pattern of data that must be filtered out.
We as human can understand the difference between these two but we can't put an exact mathematical definition for signal because we still don't know how human intelligence work and in what mysterious ways it creates information.

If you are math student we will be quite happy to see you definition for information which also can be applicable to biology and DNA chains.

"Neither Information theorists nor Engineers can find an automated way to exactly identify the information and seperate it from random noise"

However we can develope good engineering methods to do that in a specified system. For example the distrubution of codes in what they call human Junk DNA has found to be Fractal instead of being totally random. It can give us a clue that Junk DNA also contains information.

But again there is no universal method, exact mathematical theorem to do this seperation without a need for intelligent human observation.

No, but the ones that become more efficient at copying and at not being used for spare parts by other copyers will tend to replicate the most and will pass those tendencies on to their "children". This is evolution 101, for crying out loud.

Wrong! Evolution 101 cares about evolution at cellular level not molecular level.

You still not aware that a self replicator can't survive enough even to replicate once. This the kind of babble we used hear from abiogenesis theorists. You can't even show a S/R can be produced in natural conditions let alone allow it to replicate and evolve. You just assume this and that can happen against all of those mathematical odds and severe conditions of prebiotic earth.
You still can't tell us how a self replicator can form a cell with a complete protective shell, a coding DNA, an energy producing facility combined with an adavnced self maintenance mechanism.

I'm done with this debate. I'm running out of time as I should go and do things to earn some money.

This turned out to be a classical Evolutionist/Anti-Evolutionist debate which won't lead us to any new place.

I'm thankful anyway. It helped me to refresh my information.

Good luck

8:03 am  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...

Lifewish,
You said:
"I call shenanigans. The Nilsson and Pelger paper* showed that there is at least one plausible evolutionary path from light-sensitive cells to a complex (fish) eye such that every single tiny step en route represents an improvement in eye functionality. That means that the formation of an eyelike structure may even be an inevitability when you throw evolution into the mix."

You have misunderstood what the Pelger paper shows and what it does not show.

It shows that a series of eyes can be assembled with each one in the series being an improvement on the next. Some eyes along that series are real and some are not.

It does not deal with the molecular biology of eye developement. The nuts and bolts of how stem cells communicate with each other and organise their molecular programming to produce all the different tissues in the correct places at the correct time. We simply do not know enough about this process to say we even fully understand it as it is let alone how it came into being.

Pelger etc say nothing at all about the real problems of eye production.

8:44 am  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...

Lifewish,
You said:
"The paper clearly demonstrates that the continuous, locally-optimising path I referred to above actually exists for the case of the fish eye. That is all that's required to demonstrate that the fish eye is, in principle at least, evolvable from a light-sensing patch."

You have misunderstood the situation. Showing that a series exists with each stage being an improvement on the one before DOES NOT solve all the problems of producing a structure at the end of the series.

This is simply a small and comparatively trivial step in the process. The rubber hits the road when you start comparing the molecular machinery and control mechanisms that are required for each stepwise improvement. Producing that machinery and control systems is what the whole argument is about. The steps in this pathway are not analogous to nylonase type changes at all. There is elegant coordinated action in multiple layers each of which is interdepedent. These pathways are analogous to real computer programs. Random mutation and selection is not a good way to improve software or a Lord of the Rings DVD.

9:03 am  
Blogger Lifewish said...

Firstly, sorry to Farshad for being so cranky at you last night. Had had a really bad day.

If you are a math student. You must know that there is no exact theorem or mathematical path to identify information and seperate it from noise.

In which case, how can you justify the statement that information never increases? How on do you know?

This is not a rhetorical question - if you really have some way of demonstrating that this quantity that you call "information" can't rise substantially by natural means, even in the context of evolutionary systems, please tell me.

However you implied you know the answer, please let us know what your math theorists know about the exact predictive methods to identify the information. We are all ears (or eyes!)

Well, the main way that Information Theory defines information (this version is known as Shannon information) is as the inverse log of the probability. This has the nice feature that it's additive, and is always positive. A more evocative term I've seen used for the same concept is "surprisal"

For example, if your significant other wanders downstairs in the morning, says "hi" and gets a grunt in return, that grunt doesn't really tell her a lot because it's a very common reaction. That grunt has low Shannon information.

However, if she wanders downstairs and says "hi", and you respond by double-taking, screaming loudly and running from the room, that's (probably) not something that happens a lot. As a result it gives her a lot of information - a) something's badly wrong with her appearance and b) you're sleeping on the couch tonight.

The useful thing about this precise formulation is that it's additive - if you grunt and then do a double-take, run screaming etc, then the information your SO can derive from it is the sum of the information values for the two component signals.

Of course, by this definition, it's trivial for DNA to evolve more information by mutation. If we assume that the signals are the codons of DNA, all that needs to happen is a copying error changing a more common codon to a less common codon. In fact, when you think about it, this will happen more often than not.

My statement stated that we don't know the source. I didn't say we don't know the laws. ok?

OK, sorry for misinterpreting. It sounded like you were claiming God intervenes on a day-to-day basis, which rather... surprised me...

....Which now I come to think about it is a superb example of information increasing - a higher-information (less probable) signal was produced as a result of noise in the channel (or between my ears, take your pick).

Nice! I'm a software engineer, coded nearly 400,000 lines and I don't know what information is?

I would suspect that you have a layman's (as opposed to an information theorist's) definition of information. It's probably relatively precise compared to that of other laymen, but if it's not mathematically rigorous it's going to be very difficult to prove that information can't increase. And without that proof, saying that "evolution can't occur because information can't naturally rise" is just pushing the problem back another step - you're redefining the question without providing a solution.

Addendum: I've just reread the argument and, on reflection, it looks like you may be conflating two different layman's definitions of information: data that means stuff and data that does stuff. I'd completely agree that the first is only possible in the presence of intelligence, but I'd strongly disagree with the same claim being made about the second definition.

Wrong! Evolution 101 cares about evolution at cellular level not molecular level.

I guess that depends on the syllabus. My point was that, regardless of the actual details of the system being studied, in the presence of replication that is:

1) differential with respect to some fitness function
2) mostly (but not entirely) accurate

evolution will demonstrably occur. I say "demonstrably" because that's the minimal formulation of a genetic algorithm, and those things definitely work.

You can't even show a S/R can be produced in natural conditions let alone allow it to replicate and evolve.

As I pointed out before, if we're assuming that polymerisation of amino acids can occur naturally and that there's a plentiful supply of amino acids then it's actually fairly implausible for self-replicators not to form. If you disagree with either of the assumptions, please tell me.

You still can't tell us how a self replicator can form a cell with a complete protective shell, a coding DNA, an energy producing facility combined with an adavnced self maintenance mechanism.

No, we can't, although at last check I think we had some strong ideas about the first two. However, as yet, we have no reason to believe that we won't eventually do so. Assertions about information do not constitute a disproof unless firmly backed up.

Moving on to Andrew's comments:

It does not deal with the molecular biology of eye developement. The nuts and bolts of how stem cells communicate with each other and organise their molecular programming to produce all the different tissues in the correct places at the correct time. We simply do not know enough about this process to say we even fully understand it as it is let alone how it came into being.

That's completely true. However, I'd tend to characterise these as fairly secondary issues. If a given small change in eye structure occurs that improves sight, that change will quickly percolate through the entire population. The fact that there's a continuous path of changes, all improving the accuracy of the eye, therefore strongly suggests that eye formation is possible.

I'd agree that the "nuts and bolts" raise important questions, which is why an entire field (evolutionary developmental biology) emerged fairly recently to study them. However, all that's necessary for a suitable (as defined above) evolutionary path to be followed is a certain degree of plasticity on the part of the organism.

If you don't think that the eye possesses that plasticity, that's a legitimate question and I'll need to do more reading before discussing it. However, if you're happy to accept that the eye has that plasticity, that's pretty much all that's required for the fish eye to be evolutionarily achievable.

Random mutation and selection is not a good way to improve software or a Lord of the Rings DVD.

According to Wikipedia, a majority of Fortune 500 companies use genetic algorithms to solve various combinatorial optimisation problems. So I'd tend to disagree with the assertion that random mutation and selection isn't a good way to improve software.

3:00 pm  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...

Lifewish,

In reverse order because its easier for me to work backwards up the email!

1. Software argument... what I meant was that writing software entirely by random mutation and natural selection is a silly plan. Likewise random mutation of the machine code itself would also I reckon be a silly way to improve anything other than microsoft software.

2. The plasticity of the eye. Depends what you mean by plasticity. The software analogy is goo here I think.
I disagree about this essentially solving the problem.

I would argue that there are numerous steps along the pathway which cannot be broken down and which require significant integrated information input.

My prediction is that ultimately evo-devo will be the end of macro-evo.

3:19 pm  
Blogger Lifewish said...

Software argument... what I meant was that writing software entirely by random mutation and natural selection is a silly plan.

Not necessarily. For example, this guy has been working to evolve FPGA circuits and the like - the entire finished system is being written by random mutation and natural selection. One of his results, which I've probably gone on about at great length in the past, resulted in a circuit capable of distinguishing between high and low tones that was vastly more efficient than anything a human would have come up with.

Depends what you mean by plasticity.

It's taking me a moment to think this through... broadly what I mean is that the structure of the eye should be able to change smoothly without being seriously restricted by what goes on inside the black box of genetics. So an eye is plastic if and only if the evo-devo stuff is the icing on the evolution-theoretic cake rather than the juicy filling. Currently I only have circumstantial evidence for this being the case - I'll go away and do some more reading when I have a moment.

I would argue that there are numerous steps along the pathway which cannot be broken down and which require significant integrated information input.

My prediction is that ultimately evo-devo will be the end of macro-evo.


It's conceivable that you're right, but do you have any actual evidence for that? As a side note: if it turns out to be true, what would be your reaction (after the partying was over)? Would you be out looking for evidence of crashed spacecraft or trying to develop scientific tests for the presence of an incorporeal designer? What exactly does the Intelligent Design movement plan to replace RMNS evolution with, apart from religion-friendly uncertainty? I'm genuinely curious here.

Incidentally, I note that you're also using the word "information" as an indicator of impossibility without providing a decent definition for it. I assume you realise that, until you provide a strong, measurable definition for it, no scientist can in good faith accept your assertion that the appearance of "significant integrated information input" isn't plausible? You're using it as an intuitive concept, and those have a habit of being proven wrong, especially in a quasi-mathematical context.

7:33 pm  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...

Lifewish,

Thankyou for your thought provoking questions... I'm not ignoring them...just thinking!

I think information is a tricky word to turn into numbers... a bit like consciousness...(to which it is closely linked.)

I did put one or two thoughts together on this before somewhere on the blog...but I cannot find them just now...and they were not what you were after anyway....

Ah..hah..here they are...bt as I said not what you are after.

1. Information - this is a fascinating word! The SOD list of definitions has only one which can be their suggestion of the definition:
sense 6 - "The giving of a form or essential character to something."

That doesn't really help!

I would say something more like "stored data" but then if you look up "data" it is really defined as "information"!

It is something analogous to writing and reading I think. Which is why all that terminology was immediately applied to the DNA-RNA-Protein system.

It is a system which uses and recognises a code for a useful purpose.
2. Evidence for sudden integrated increases in information.
(a) The origin of a coding system for the construction of biological machines. By its very nature a coding system requires a whole **system**
(b) The origin of an integrated energy storage and usage system.
(c) The origin of structural molecules and their production.
(d) The motor function of the bacterial flagellum is the best and most well studied example.

You either have the system/function or you do not and the system/function depends on having multiple coordinated elements together at once for its function.

The analogy of language is I think very useful here. To get a story you need multiple coordinated examples of sentences put together in a certain way for it to work.

Getting a story by random assembly of sentences is I think not a good way to make money as a writer!

5:44 pm  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...

Lifewish,

Have you read any of the Adrian Thompson papers. Presumably he is not mutating the machine code randomly changing 0's and 1's....or is he?

6:41 pm  
Blogger Lifewish said...

It is something analogous to writing and reading I think. Which is why all that terminology was immediately applied to the DNA-RNA-Protein system.

I always thought of information (in the layman's sense*) as being roughly equivalent to data + context. That fits with the application of the idea to DNA etc. Problem is, starting off with an idea like that, it's fairly hard to demonstrate that it can't increase - I'd have thought that it would be possible for it to do so in an evolutionary context.

Evidence for sudden integrated increases in information.
(a) The origin of a coding system for the construction of biological machines. By its very nature a coding system requires a whole **system**


I'd agree that it can only work as a coding system if all the parts are present. However, each of the component parts can still do work as something else until the necessary serendipity occurs.

So, for example, one way that such a coding system could arise is:

1) DNA molecules form naturally, for example by polymerisation on clay

2) These tend to form protocells around themselves, with certain DNA strands being better than others at it

3) Pre-existing "metabolic" pathways use these protocells to hop from rockpool to rockpool - without the protocell, the chance of all the necessary components of the pathway making it across would be slim

4) These pathways now have an incentive** for there to be lots of DNA that are good at forming protocells. The best way to achieve this is to replicate existing strands so, when a metabolic pathway (involving RNA, presumably) that can do that arrives on the scene, it spreads like crazy.

5) Problem is, by this point they'd be running out of rockpools that didn't have an existing metabolic pathway operating in them - all the effective ones would have spread around. Eventually, therefore, the tendency is for the pathways to ride about on their "boat" with its DNA keel and only return to port for raw materials.

We now have replicating DNA. However, it doesn't do anything apart from replicate so far.

6) The community of chemicals now floating around in the HMS protocell with its DNA keel somehow realise that said DNA can be used to encode useful stuff. One way that this could occur is if a very primitive ribosome emerged more or less by chance and proceeded to spew lots of weird chemicals into the protocell. That would instantly kill off the majority of protocells, but a very few would survive and, if their DNA keel happened to code for a molecule in the metabolic pathway, might even prosper as a result. Certainly they'd now have plenty of resources from all those exploded protocells to play around with.

7) As they spread like wildfire, there'd be mutations in the DNA which would now have an effect on the pathway itself. Over time, these random variations could be expected to stumble across the code for one useful enzyme after another, with each enzyme that was added to the repertoire significantly increasing the efficiency of the cell. Eventually, all the enzymes necessary for cell propagation would be coded for by the DNA.

8) The resulting cell will be massively faster at breeding than its protocell peers - it won't have nearly as much trouble getting its hands on useful quantities of enzymes. From here, the sky's the limit.

The above is almost certainly completely wrong in ways that I would be able to correct if I had the slightest cue about biochemistry. However, if we ignore said faulty assumptions, I think it's detailed enough and plausible enough to suggest that it's not completely impossible for coding systems to arise. The only main (non-ignorance-related) hole I can see of it is the appearance of a primitive ribosome - that'll take some research to plausibility-check.

It's a just-so story, and probably so wrong it'd make a biochemist's eyes pop out, but it shows that, in the context of certain premises that would appear not to naturally give rise to coding systems, coding systems can still arise.

Getting a story by random assembly of sentences is I think not a good way to make money as a writer!

Now, what would be really interesting is to see if a genetic algorithm with sufficient processing power behind it could actually write a story. It'd start off printing complete gobbledygook, but I predict that, with sufficient input from its "target audience", it would fairly quickly reach the spelling level of the average chatroom 1337speeker. Once it had that you could start training it to have better grammar. Once it had decent grammar, you could start selecting the ones that came up with humanlike content. It'd take years but eventually you might end up with a damn good chatbot-type creation.

Of course, this would be artificial selection not natural selection. It's still an intriguing thought though.

* To save much qualification on my part, if I want to refer to the mathematically-precise definition, I'll call it Shannon information. Otherwise I'm talking about the fuzzily-defined layman's version.

** Apologies for the anthropomorphisation

7:05 pm  
Blogger Lifewish said...

Have you read any of the Adrian Thompson papers. Presumably he is not mutating the machine code randomly changing 0's and 1's....or is he?

Yes, as I understand it, that's pretty much exactly what he's doing. See, for example, here:

"The configuration memory of an FPGA can be conceptualised as its genotype, which determines what the blocks do and how they are wired together. If an FPGA is the control system of a robot, then artificial evolution can manipulate an encoding of the configuration memory (genotype) according to the robot behaviour induced by the corresponding circuit implemented on the FPGA: the hardware is evolvable."

See here for information on the evolution of a millisecond oscillator circuit.

Note in particular the phrase "The entire network contributes to the behaviour, and meaningful sub-networks could not be identified." Doesn't that sound like a lot of natural systems? I'd say yes. Do human designers produce stuff like that? I'd say no.

7:22 pm  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...

Lifewish,

Saying information=data+context is not a lot different from saying information=information+context... at least in laymans terms anyway.... or have I missed something important.

My proposition is that meaningful language is also irreducibly complex. (Now there is a suprise!)

I like your idea about random story generation....can you build a language without the intelligence to detect it?

10:50 pm  
Blogger Lifewish said...

Saying information=data+context is not a lot different from saying information=information+context... at least in laymans terms anyway.... or have I missed something important.

No, you've missed nothing particularly important. I spent some time a few years back thinking about ways to define layman's information, and that was the best I could come up with - that information is just 1s and 0s plus a schema for interpreting them. This is of course a qualitative definition not a quantitative one, and hence isn't very useful for conservation laws.

I like your idea about random story generation....can you build a language without the intelligence to detect it?

It's an interesting thought. I suspect that on some level it's possible - I remember reading about an evolutionary setup of several interlinked computers that developed a form of language (that was very much the purpose of the experiment though, so not exactly revolutionary). I'll have to muck about with it when I have the time. Will report back with any interesting findings.

6:02 pm  
Blogger allygally said...

Andrew
"My proposition is that meaningful language is also irreducibly complex. (Now there is a suprise!)"

Andrew,
did you think that meaningful language was irreducibly complex before you heard of Michael Behe's assertion?

7:52 pm  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...

Allygally,

The answer is....No :-)

Andrew

9:24 pm  
Blogger allygally said...

"Andrew,
did you think that meaningful language was irreducibly complex before you heard of Michael Behe's assertion?


Andrew said...

Allygally,

The answer is....No :-)"


So why do you think so now?

9:44 pm  
Blogger Lifewish said...

I'd assert that meaningful language isn't irreducibly complex (no surprise there). In particular, we have examples of languages that miss out large chunks of what we would consider essential sentence components.

For example, in Japanese, it's extremely common to miss out subject, object or both. Phrase of the day: "wakarimasen deshita", the only phrase of Japanese I can still remember, means "didn't understand". It would be a sentence fragment in English, yet is perfectly acceptable as a whole sentence in Japanese.

This suggests that it's possible to construct a meaningful language using a very limited subset of what we'd consider proper language. So, for example, a possible evolutionary path for the phrase "a shark is about to attack Fred" is:

1) "shark" (so we know there's a shark around)

2) "shark attack" (so we know it's not just rotting on a beach somewhere)

3) "shark (singular) attack" = "a shark attack" (so we know there's just one fin in the water to worry about)

4) "a shark attack Fred" (so we know that it's the shark that's doing the attacking rather than being attacked by our hunters - if the latter were the case, no immediate action would be necessary)

5) "a shark about to attack Fred" (so we know that the speaker isn't talking about that close call the other day)

When language starts to be written down, there's a tendency to standardise on a whole range of grammatical issues. This makes it easier for different communities using the same language to avoid divergent evolution that would leave them unable to communicate. In this case, the phrase will tend to end up as:

6) "a shark is about to attack Fred!"

We now have a complete evolutionary path from a basic symbolic call to a complete English sentence, with every step adding value to the community using that language (fewer of them will be eaten by sharks). Thus, in the presence of sufficient intellectual resources to learn such a complicated system, this sort of structure can be expected to eventually arise in the majority of cases.

{/parody of my own posting style}

3:11 pm  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...

Lifewish,
You make it sound so easy that it is surprising there are living organism without human speech! ;-)

Speech is a reflection of thought. The ability to think and reason and to express those thoughts and reflections is a staggering ability.

I have not got a watertight argument for what I proposed but I am working on it and hope to produce something worthwhile before my time runs out.

2:06 pm  
Blogger Lifewish said...

You make it sound so easy that it is surprising there are living organism without human speech!

Like I say, it requires the necessary brainpower to make it possible, as well as the necessary pack behaviour to make it necessary. The only other animal group I can think of that fulfils these requirements is dolphins. Coincidentally, dolphins make extremely complex whistling noises to each other. I don't know to what extend we've "decoded" these (Larson cartoons aside).

Speech is a reflection of thought. The ability to think and reason and to express those thoughts and reflections is a staggering ability.

Like I say, you need plenty of brainpower. Of course, once some individuals have enough brainpower to understand a slightly more complex set of calls than their peers, those individuals are less likely to get eaten by sharks. Thus, the average intelligence of the group will tend to rise, and with it the capacity to understand yet more complex language. A perfect example of coevolution, in fact :P

Also, isn't there a philosophical position that says that most of our thought is, in fact, a reflection of our speech (rather than vice-versa)?

1:47 pm  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...

Lifewish,

It is not just processing power. It is the ability to think creatively, choose and the will to express those thoughts and choices. I do not believe that conciousness can be reduced to a computer program.

8:38 am  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...

Allygally,
So why do you think so now?

I only discovered language later in life!

I studied English Language at school in the days when grammar had been sent down the tubes.

10:09 am  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...

Lifewish,

I am not convinced that Adrian Thompson is randomly mutating the code. It seems set up to prevent any total nonsence occuring.

10:14 am  
Blogger Lifewish said...

It is not just processing power. It is the ability to think creatively, choose and the will to express those thoughts and choices. I do not believe that conciousness can be reduced to a computer program.

Fair enough. As long as you're aware that that view isn't a scientific one :)

I am not convinced that Adrian Thompson is randomly mutating the code. It seems set up to prevent any total nonsence occuring.

As far as I can tell, it isn't. I need to do some reading up on genetic algorithms, after which I'll hopefully be able to provide you with a demonstration of an ex nihilo control system. Would that be convincing? What level of verisimilitude to "real life" would I need for you to be able to accept it?

Now I come to think about it, this sort of application isn't much different to the travelling salesman algorithms that we know evolutionary algorithms can produce.

5:13 pm  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...

Lifewish,

Fair enough. As long as you're aware that that view isn't a scientific one :)

Is it a scientific view to be certain that consciousness can be reduced to matter and energy?

10:37 pm  
Anonymous Farshad said...

The problem with those evolution based simulations and methods around here is that they unintentionally (or intentionally) contradict the basic rules of darwinian evolution which is the blind watchmaker mechanism.

The problem here is that such programs use an intelligent selection method rather than a blind one.

The most well known example is ofcourse the Dawkins Weasel program Which is a good example for an intelligent selection mechanism using a predefined goal, however it wrongly has been used by Dawkins to demonstrate a blind selection mechanism.

Somewhere above lifewish gave an example for evoluionary electronics design methods that attracted me. I analayzed one of those examples that aimed to produce a 4-khz oscillator. I could easily saw the below facts:

1)The design goal was given at advance which makes it an example for intelligent design/selection not a blind one.

2)The effects of R/M was immediate and caused an immediate selection through an intelligent mechanism.

3)The design parameters were well optimized according to that specific deisgn. R/M were allowed only to happen within a range of well tuned parameters that make the design more or less favorable according to that predefined goal.
i.e. RM were not allowed to damage basic structure of the design as they may do in genetic structure of a life form.

On the other hand in darwinian RM/NS:

1) The selection mechanism is not intelligent. It's based on only one basic parameter. Survival of the fittest.i.e. the blind watchmaker

2) The effect of good mutations is not immediate. So it gives a good chance for bad mutations to accumalate before the advantage of good ones can be selectable by the blind nature.

3) The RMs are not direceted or fine tuned according to a certain set of parameters or a design goal. Mutations can happen any where and have any kind of effects. They can be deadly and give severe damages.

4) From a probablistic point of view bad mutations must be enourmous compared to good ones. So it's very likely for bad mutation to cancel any good ones because they are not filtered out in an intelligent way.

I could go in much more details here but just wanted to briefly explain the main differences with RM/NS and those human designed I/S simulations.

There is another thing for evolutionary electronics here. I'm not sure if they are having any real applications currently in industry because as far as I could see the design productions wasn't as good as what a human may design. for example a basic 4khz oscillator takes you only one NOT gate plus one capacitor and one resistor. However it's irrelevant to our discussion.

We can design a software, give it a predefined goal, fine tune the parameters and then by using random changes force it to reach that goal through several steps enabling it to do a specific job for us. For example I can give parameters of a basic form of bacterial flagellum to the computer. Give the necassary parts to start and write the necessary code to teach it how to follow an evolutionary path true random changes and a specialized selection mechanism to build it.

Well this is possible, however this is not RM/NS. This is an example of intelligent design or directed evolution.

I can't imagine of a software that can do the design job for me simply without giving it all required parameters of the required goal of the design at the beginning.

If I only tell the computer "design for me a new bacteria which is faster" and expect it to design a flagellum for me, it would be some sort of nonsense which was popular in 70's science-fiction movies.

The problem here is that any kind of program we write can only do what is intended by its programmer. Not even a bit more. We can see this fact in computer games. Even the most intelligent looking strategy game has a limit. Once the limit is reached the player can estimate all acts of the computer. The game is no longer challanging and computer decisions will become predictive. That's why all such kind of games have a multiplayer mode too.

If you ask a computer game software specialist "Can you produce a code that can randomly enhance itself and become more intelligent and produce new strategies so the game can produce new difficulty levels. Plus it can create new races and species, evolve them continously and design new worlds and environments on its own?"
most probably he would be laughing loud at you thinking you are a lunatic guy who reads too much comics.

There are some good automated design softwares that can produce pretty good results. However you must notice those softwares are limited to only one design and purpose and each time you want a new design you must sit and carefully change the sensitive parameters or even rewrite parts of the code. Those softwares are a reflection of our intelligence, the only reason we need them is that they can do things much much faster than we can. They can easily overcome the time taking dirty and heavy part of the task for us in a very short amount of time.

Let me conclude that any Mutation/Selection mechanism can only produce results which are as intelligent as the selection mechansim is.
If the selection mechansim is blind the output will be a nonsense junk or let's say no output at all. Unintelligent natural selection is only too likely to produce an unintelligent result.

10:57 pm  
Blogger Lifewish said...

Is it a scientific view to be certain that consciousness can be reduced to matter and energy?

Currently the hypothesis that matter and energy is all that exists is doing just fine, despite being eminently disprovable if false*. I'd say that at this point it could be considered a scientific theory. So yes, it is a scientific view.

The claim that there's something else going on isn't falsifiable for the same reason that ID isn't falsifiable - the claim is basically that somewhere, somehow, there's something wrong with the naturalistic hypothesis, but we're not gonna tell you what. Such claims, in my experience, have a marked tendency to turn out to be mere arguments from incredulity.

* For example, if it could be shown that separating the two halves of the cerebellum didn't affect the flow of information between them, that would certainly falsify the naturalistic hypothesis.

1:41 am  
Blogger Lifewish said...

The problem here is that such programs use an intelligent selection method rather than a blind one.

I'd say that a program appropriately simulated natural selection if it assessed the simulated organisms based on some fitness function rather than on their individual characteristics. The system should be impartial, merely determining whether, in the artificial universe, such an organism would have bred or died childless. It should not comment on the structure of a solution, merely on that solution's success rate.

If you consider this an intelligent selection method then that would mean that your definition of "intelligent" encompassed natural selection, since the above is precisely what the world around us does with organisms - it tests their "fitness" and, if they are more fecund than their peers, their genes will be more likely to be passed on to subsequent generations.

1)The design goal was given at advance which makes it an example for intelligent design/selection not a blind one.

In the case of Dawkins' "weasel" program, I'd agree that a "correct" solution was preprogrammed into the system. However, this is not the case here any more than it would be in a real-world system - Thompson in no way constrained the solution to the problem he presented the genetic algorithm with. The proof here is in the pudding - the resulting circuit exploited the slight delays in the discrete FPGA to effectively produce an analogue circuit. This is something that I am led to believe a human engineer would have some trouble achieving.

So yes, the design goal was given in advance, but only in the same way that it's given in advance for, for example, bacteria trying to colonise an unusual environment. The design goal was merely survival in an environment that selected based on performance at a given task. Beyond that, the GA proved perfectly capable of working its own magic.

2)The effects of R/M was immediate and caused an immediate selection through an intelligent mechanism.

I'm confused. Are you saying that real-world mutations are held in stasis for a few generations before being allowed to take part? That would be rather an odd view, but other than that I really can't see what you're saying.

The design parameters were well optimized according to that specific deisgn. R/M were allowed only to happen within a range of well tuned parameters that make the design more or less favorable according to that predefined goal.
i.e. RM were not allowed to damage basic structure of the design as they may do in genetic structure of a life form.


Again, I have no idea where you're getting this from. It's true that the evolutionary algorithm wasn't applied to the actual hardware but, since we currently have no self-replicating machines, that would be a bit difficult to achieve. As far as I can tell, RMNS* evolution (for a sufficiently odd definition of "natural") was applied to all the software.

On the other hand in darwinian RM/NS:

1) The selection mechanism is not intelligent. It's based on only one basic parameter. Survival of the fittest.i.e. the blind watchmaker


In this case, that's exactly what happened. The only difference is that, since we don't actually have a complete robotic ecosystem to work with (although efforts have been made at simulating that), we have to prespecify the fitness function. This generally leads to slightly less interesting behaviour than we might expect from a mixed system but, as we can see in this case, what's left is still very cool.

The RMs are not direceted or fine tuned according to a certain set of parameters or a design goal. Mutations can happen any where and have any kind of effects. They can be deadly and give severe damages.

And that could, and presumably regularly did, happen in the evolutionary process that gave rise to the oscillator. As with the real world, such nonfunctional systems would have been killed off extremely quickly.

From a probablistic point of view bad mutations must be enourmous compared to good ones. So it's very likely for bad mutation to cancel any good ones because they are not filtered out in an intelligent way.

Again, I have no idea what you're saying here. In this GA there was no engineer poring over it saying "hmm, that looks cool, we'll keep that. No, that bit looks dodgy, kill it". There was just death for any circuit that couldn't survive. No intelligent filtering occurred. Thus, by your logic, there's no way this circuit could have evolved.

Unless you consider Natural Selection to be intelligent, of course, in which case all bets are off.

There is another thing for evolutionary electronics here. I'm not sure if they are having any real applications currently in industry because as far as I could see the design productions wasn't as good as what a human may design. for example a basic 4khz oscillator takes you only one NOT gate plus one capacitor and one resistor. However it's irrelevant to our discussion.

They didn't have capacitors here. My understanding is that capacitors are a pain in the bum to miniaturise (please correct me if I'm wrong), so a system that avoided using one would certainly be of value, quite apart from the evolutionary implications.

We can design a software, give it a predefined goal, fine tune the parameters and then by using random changes force it to reach that goal through several steps enabling it to do a specific job for us. For example I can give parameters of a basic form of bacterial flagellum to the computer. Give the necassary parts to start and write the necessary code to teach it how to follow an evolutionary path true random changes and a specialized selection mechanism to build it.

However, what was done in the case of the GA under discussion was basically equivalent to telling your computer to go build something that would make bacteria move faster. Which isn't quite what happened in the case of real-world bacteria, but it's a fair enough estimate. Thompson certainly wasn't telling his circuits to go build a solution that looked something like this - he was just telling them to go build a solution and letting them "decide" for themselves how to achieve it.

(Apologies for anthropomorphisation in the above paragraph)

If you ask a computer game software specialist "Can you produce a code that can randomly enhance itself and become more intelligent and produce new strategies so the game can produce new difficulty levels. Plus it can create new races and species, evolve them continously and design new worlds and environments on its own?"
most probably he would be laughing loud at you thinking you are a lunatic guy who reads too much comics.


Actually, what you're talking about sounds a lot like how Tierra would look to a dedicated Core Wars player.

There are some good automated design softwares that can produce pretty good results. However you must notice those softwares are limited to only one design and purpose and each time you want a new design you must sit and carefully change the sensitive parameters or even rewrite parts of the code.

Equivalently, every time you want a real-life species to evolve to suit new conditions, you have to actually put it in those conditions. It's no good leaving your species by the seashore and then wondering why they're not optimising themselves for desert survival, just like it's no good expecting a travelling-salesperson-solver GA to miraculously be able to solve the towers of Hanoi or something.

Those softwares are a reflection of our intelligence, the only reason we need them is that they can do things much much faster than we can. They can easily overcome the time taking dirty and heavy part of the task for us in a very short amount of time.

I disagree. As previously noted, these programs can come up with solutions that we would never in a million years have considered. They can't do everything we can do (they're generally terrible at high-level design), but when it comes to the stuff they can do they're far better at it than any human.

I'd conclude by saying, as always, that if you can see specific ways to improve the verisimilitude of this setup, please don't hesitate to inform us.

2:33 am  

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