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Are machine-information metaphors bad for science?

According to Massimo Pigliucci and Maarten Boudry, the widespread use of machine-information metaphors is unfortunate and misleading. They complain about textbooks that develop metaphors to a considerable level of detail. As an example, they cite Alberts, who is often quoted for his analogy between a cell and a “miniature factory, complete with assembly lines, messengers, transport vehicles, etc.” Another machine metaphor they dislike is that of the genome as a “blueprint”, notably in the hype surrounding the Human Genome Project. Whilst these analogies are widely held within the scientific community and by educators, the main target of Pigliucci and Boudry’s paper appears to be intelligent design:

“The analogy between living organisms and man-made machines has proven a persuasive rhetorical tool of the ID movement. In fact, for all the technical lingo and mathematical ‘demonstrations’, in much of their public presentations it is clear that ID theorists actually expect the analogies to do the argumentative work for them. In Darwin’s Black Box, Behe takes Alberts’ machine analogy to its extreme, describing the living cell as a complicated factory containing cargo-delivery systems, scanner machines, transportation systems and a library full of blueprints.”

Pigliucci and Boudry rightly trace the emergence of machine metaphors back to, at least, the Middle Ages, and a rise to prominence with the rise of science in the 17th Century. The well-known analogy made by William Harvey is mentioned: the human heart is a pump. The authors also rightly point out that the scientists of the time gave these metaphors some additional substance, because they considered human designs to be imaging designs of the Creator.

“For Newton and many of his contemporaries, the importance of the mechanical conception of nature was greater than the mere term ‘metaphor’ would suggest, as the development of mechanistic philosophy was itself largely inspired by religious motivations. As Shanks wrote in his account of the history of the design argument, “the very employment of machine metaphors invited theological speculation”.”

The authors turn to David Hume to find arguments foreshadowing the demise of design inferences made by the science community. Hume’s (1779) Dialogues concerning natural religion is said to expose “several problems with the central analogy”. The key thought is that our experience of design is limited to human artifacts, and it is presumptuous to extrapolate from this and make statements about design in general and God’s design in particular.

“Hume realized that, at least in some cases, appearances of intelligent design can be deceptive. [. . .] Although Hume does not deny that we can discern similarities between nature and human artifacts, he warns us that the analogy is also defective in several respects. And if the effects are not sufficiently similar, conclusions about similar causes are premature. [. . .] Aware of the fallibility and imperfections of human reasoning, Hume remains highly skeptical about the design inference and the machine analogy, even though he was not able to provide a satisfactory explanation for the appearance of design in nature.”

It hs always surprised me that David Hume’s arguments are considered weighty. The preceding generations of scholars did have a rationale for thinking that there is a relationship between the Creator’s design and human design. This was based on the concept of image-bearing, drawn from the Judeo-Christian worldview of the time. If man is made in the image of God, they reasoned, then we design because God designs, and analogies can be drawn between human design and design in nature. Science became, for Johannes Kepler as for them all, “thinking God’s thoughts after him”.

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74 Responses to Are machine-information metaphors bad for science?

  1. The short of it is, ‘Metaphors and analogies are bad if they’re effective at promoting an idea I disagree with and can’t disprove.’

    Tough. They’re apt, and there’s plenty of ground for seeing even mundane evolutionary processes and biological objects as artifactual, as instances of design and even technology. This isn’t a threat to ‘science and science education’ but to the metaphysical conclusions the authors wish people would draw from them. And even with changes being made to modern synthesis, the analogies between nature and design (programming, code, blueprints, artifacts, technology, etc) are going to remain viable. Even suggestive.

  2. The overuse of such metaphors is bad, because they misdescribe the way the world is. I have posted a more detailed response on my blog.

  3. The overuse of such metaphors is bad, because they misdescribe the way the world is

    That statement in and of itself, presupposes eminent knowledge of “how the world is”. Knowledge that I would argue is not possessed by humanity at this time.I would agree with your statement if the metaphors were ludicrous. In this instance, they are not. They represent quite well what is being accomplished by the objects they seek to describe.I believe the issue with the “offensive” metaphors and analogies isn’t so much about the quality of their descriptive power (they are unassailable). Rather, the isue is with the seeming disparity between the particular metaphysical subscriptions of the offended and the metaphysical data that is packaged with those descriptions.

  4. 4

    Neil,

    They misdescribe the way metaphysical materialists view the world is more accurate. The very fact that this issue has come up is in response to ID theorists using them – and ID theorists have used them because others in science continue to. If ID theorists had never used them, it wouldn’t be viewed as a problem.

  5. 5

    ciphertext,

    “Rather, the isue is with the seeming disparity between the particular metaphysical subscriptions of the offended and the metaphysical data that is packaged with those descriptions.”

    Exactly. Funny how we both noticed pretty much the same thing here. I wonder if there’s an appropriate mechanistic metaphor. :)

  6. 6

    It’s interesting that once ID theorists begin saying things, the materialists back away from their use – macro/micro evolution rings a bell here.

    How many other terms have been disowned by the ToE community simply because ID theorists are now using them?

    How about “Darwinism?”

  7. CannuckianYankee

    You say this is a response to ID. However, that’s not the impression that Pigliucci and Boudry leave. My main personal reason for concern is that I see cognitive science going in a wrong direction because of its “brain as computer” metaphor.

  8. I hope they are not upset with the ‘lunar landing’ metaphor here:

    The Bacteriophage Virus – Assembly Of A Molecular ‘Lunar Landing’ Machine – Intelligent Design -video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4023122/

    The Bacteriophage Virus – A Molecular Lunar Landing Machine (DNA Packaging and Infection) – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4205494/

    The first thought I had when I saw the bacteriophage virus is that it looks similar to the lunar lander of the Apollo program. The comparison is not without merit considering some of the relative distances to be traveled and the virus must somehow possess, as of yet unelucidated, orientation, guidance, docking, unloading, loading, etc… mechanisms. And please remember this level of complexity exists in a world that is far too small to be seen with the naked eye. This excellent video gives a small glimpse at the intricate, and humbling, complexity that goes into crafting the “simple” non-living bacteriophage virus.

  9. 9

    Neil,

    I think you’re mistaken. Observe this quote from the OP:

    “The analogy between living organisms and man-made machines has proven a persuasive rhetorical tool of the ID movement. In fact, for all the technical lingo and mathematical ‘demonstrations’, in much of their public presentations it is clear that ID theorists actually expect the analogies to do the argumentative work for them. In Darwin’s Black Box, Behe takes Alberts’ machine analogy to its extreme, describing the living cell as a complicated factory containing cargo-delivery systems, scanner machines, transportation systems and a library full of blueprints.”

    So while they’re not speaking to ID specifically, but to the reductionism common with use of such metaphors among biological scientists, there does seem to be some reaction to their use among ID theorists. And yet the OP (linked) points out that such use is minimal among ID theorists.

  10. In this video,,

    Molecular Machine Bacterial Flagella – A Paradigm For Intelligent Design – Scott Minnich – video
    http://www.vimeo.com/9032112

    Scott Minnich starting at the 6 minute mark describes the parts of the machine of the Bacterial Flagellum for a few minutes,,, It is simply ludicrous to call the parts of the machine something else than what they actually are.

  11. Semiotic mappings of physical objects and processes exist in a recorded state within a material medium. They are being processed by the cell to produce those objects and processes. They are doing so by means of a system; one which is irreducible to the constituent material within the system.

    Get over it.

  12. To describe the heart as a pump is not a metaphore. The heart is a pump. To describe DNA to protein as translation of a code is not a metaphore. It is the translation of a code. To describe the flagellum as a rotary motor is not a metaphore. It is a rotary motor. I do not see their point. They are using NEWSPEAK to redefine reality.

  13. To say metaphore is a metaphor for bad spelling is false. It is bad spelling!

  14. MACHINE “an assemblage of parts that transmit forces, motion, and energy one to another in a predetermined manner (2) : an instrument designed to transmit or modify the application of power, force, or motion : a mechanically, electrically, or electronically operated device for performing a task”

  15. “As Shanks wrote in his account of the history of the design argument, ‘the very employment of machine metaphors invited theological speculation’.”

    Man, these guys are geniuses.

  16. 16

    I think us ID fellers should issue the following challenge:

    If the machine-software analogy is just that, an analogy, then in what way do mechanisms within the cell (shoot, I just did it)… in what way do the globs of molecules in cells differ from machines?

  17. 17

    Neil Rickert, regarding #7

    One way guided missiles are directed to their targets is by thermal imaging. Satellites guide the missile to a point, then a thermal camera takes over, which receives a picture of the target. The picture is analyzed by software and compared to a pre-defined image. The software constantly analyzes the images received from the camera, fitting them to the predefined image, and at the same time generating in real time mechanical movement of the control surfaces to guide the missile to the target. A computer is needed to do this.

    But insects do this, too. They receive an image, either in terms of sight or smell, and their little compact brains somehow guide the insect to whatever it is trying to get to. Now, whatever is happening in the brain of that insect is doing the exact same thing that the guided missile is doing. It is analyzing sensory inputs and generating mechanical responses to guide the insect’s body to the target. It should also be noted that it utilizes touch, sight, and smell to move across terrain.

    If the insect’s brain is not a computer, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle.

  18. 18

    Neil, I recently posted this elsewhere:

    “The amount of [intelligent] reconfigurations of matter & energy (machines, software, computing, automatic controls, all via human intelligence) involved in getting anywhere near what biological life can do is staggering. Teams of human engineers are required to produce these lousy, cheap imitations of what biological life can do:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cHJJQ0zNNOM
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nUQsRPJ1dYw
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67CUudkjEG4
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wIuRVr8z_WE
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JzfP0Ig7eVQ

    This is reverse engineering writ large.”

  19. 19

    BA77, I very much appreciate the links you post on this site. They are very beneficial to me.

  20. The overuse of such metaphors is bad, because they misdescribe the way the world is. I have posted a more detailed response on my blog.

    One misuse of a machine metaphor is Junk DNA (as in machines or mistakes of of badly designed machines). Oddly, that metaphor was promoted by Darwinists, not ID proponents.

    1/3 of the Engineers at MIT are devoted to studying biological phenomenon. Pleas for suppressing truth in the name of Darwinism will go unheeded because science marches on and biology is best understood under the paradigm of engineering, not natural selection.

    Darwin Dissed by Doctors, Design Revolution Continues at MIT

    As a respected biologist said:

    However, fitness is hard to define rigorously and even more difficult to measure….An examination of fitness and its robustness alone would thus not yield much insight into the opening questions. Instead, it is necessary to analyze, on all levels of organization, the systems that constitute an organism, and that sustain its life. I define such systems loosely as assemblies of parts that carry out well-defined biological functions.

    Andreas Wagner

    which sounds like someone we know:

    A single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function of the system

    Michael Behe

    And such systems are best labeled “machines”, not selectively advantaged features.

    In fact, there are specific machines in biology that have analogs in the engineering world.

    Mike Gene lists them in his book, Design Matrix.

  21. Is calling a heart a pump a metaphore? Or is it merely accurate?

    I mean, what is a machine? I think that the definition of a machine fits well with many cell features. What else do we call them? Molecular goings-on?

  22. from dictionary.com

    machine:

    an apparatus consisting of interrelated parts with separate functions, used in the performance of some kind of work…

  23. Quite simply, those who automatically rule out design in nature are repelled by concepts, or even descriptions, that invoke design. This is an emotional response, generated directly by the atheistic worldview.

    The fact that it is impossible to avoid “machine-information metaphors” in nature makes such a response even more absurd.

  24. M. Holcumbrink, thanks for the links to the robot dogs. Made my morning,,, :)

    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....ent-366544

  25. M. Holcumbrink wrote “If the insect’s brain is not a computer, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle.”

    That’s a good example of the problem. You are making a very strong assertion which appears to be based on the methodology known as “jumping to conclusions.”

    Personally, I have no difficulty admitting that we are far short of understand the insect brain.

  26. Neil Rickert,

    I noticed in your blog, in criticism to metaphor use, that you stated that mathematics is only an ‘approximation’ of reality. While that sentiment may be true in a overall sense, what is found when we dig to the deepest levels is that ‘transcendent’ math actually dictates how reality will operate:

    notes:

    Finely Tuned Big Bang, Elvis In The Multiverse, and the Schroedinger Equation – Granville Sewell – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4233012

    To solidify Dr. Sewell’s observation that transcendent ‘math’ is found to be foundational to reality, I note just one little equation:

    0 = 1 + e ^(i*pi) — Euler

    Believe it or not, the five most important numbers in mathematics are tied together, through the complex domain in Euler’s number, And that points, ever so subtly but strongly, to a world of reality beyond the immediately physical. Many people resist the implications, but there the compass needle points to a transcendent reality that governs our 3D ‘physical’ reality.

    God by the Numbers – Connecting the constants
    Excerpt: The final number comes from theoretical mathematics. It is Euler’s (pronounced “Oiler’s”) number: e*pi*i. This number is equal to -1, so when the formula is written e*pi*i+1 = 0, it connects the five most important constants in mathematics (e, pi, i, 0, and 1) along with three of the most important mathematical operations (addition, multiplication, and exponentiation). These five constants symbolize the four major branches of classical mathematics: arithmetic, represented by 1 and 0; algebra, by i; geometry, by pi; and analysis, by e, the base of the natural log. e*pi*i+1 = 0 has been called “the most famous of all formulas,” because, as one textbook says, “It appeals equally to the mystic, the scientist, the philosopher, and the mathematician.”
    http://www.christianitytoday.c.....ml?start=3

    (of note; Euler’s Number (equation) is more properly called Euler’s Identity in math circles.)

    Moreover Euler’s Identity, rather than just being the most enigmatic equation in math, finds striking correlation to how our 3D reality is actually structured,,,

    The following picture, Bible verse, and video are very interesting since, with the discovery of the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation (CMBR), the universe is found to actually be a circular sphere which ‘coincidentally’ corresponds to the circle of pi within Euler’s identity:

    Picture of CMBR
    3D picture of Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation

    Proverbs 8:26-27
    While as yet He had not made the earth or the fields, or the primeval dust of the world. When He prepared the heavens, I was there, when He drew a circle on the face of the deep,

    The Known Universe by AMNH – video – (please note the ‘centrality’ of the Earth in the universe in the video)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=17jymDn0W6U

    The flatness of the ‘entire’ universe, which ‘coincidentally’ corresponds to the diameter of pi in Euler’s identity, is found on this following site; (of note this flatness of the universe is an extremely finely tuned condition for the universe that could have, in reality, been a multitude of different values than ‘flat’):

    Did the Universe Hyperinflate? – Hugh Ross – April 2010
    Excerpt: Perfect geometric flatness is where the space-time surface of the universe exhibits zero curvature (see figure 3). Two meaningful measurements of the universe’s curvature parameter, ½k, exist. Analysis of the 5-year database from WMAP establishes that -0.0170 < ½k < 0.0068.4 Weak gravitational lensing of distant quasars by intervening galaxies places -0.031 < ½k < 0.009.5 Both measurements confirm the universe indeed manifests zero or very close to zero geometric curvature,,,

    This following video shows that the universe also has a primary characteristic of expanding/growing equally in all places,, which 'coincidentally' strongly corresponds to e in Euler's identity. e is the constant used in all sorts of equations of math for finding what the true rates of growth and decay are for any given problem trying to find as such:

    Every 3D Place Is Center In This Universe – 4D space/time – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/3991873/

    Towards the end of the following video, Michael Denton speaks of the square root of negative 1 being necessary to understand the foundational quantum behavior of this universe. The square root of -1 is 'coincidentally' found in Euler's identity:

    Michael Denton – Mathematical Truths Are Transcendent And Beautiful – Square root of -1 is built into the fabric of reality – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4003918&quot;

    I find it extremely strange that the enigmatic Euler's identity would find such striking correlation to reality. In pi we have correlation to the 'sphere of the universe' as revealed by the Cosmic Background radiation, as well pi correlates to the finely-tuned 'geometric flatness' within the 'sphere of the universe' that has now been found. In e we have the fundamental constant that is used for ascertaining exponential growth in math that strongly correlates to the fact that space-time is 'expanding/growing equally' in all places of the universe. In the square root of -1 we have what is termed a 'imaginary number', which was first proposed to help solve equations like x2+ 1 = 0 back in the 17th century, yet now, as Michael Denton pointed out in the preceding video, it is found that the square root of -1 is required to explain the behavior of quantum mechanics in this universe. The correlation of Euler's identity, to the foundational characteristics of how this universe is constructed and operates, points overwhelmingly to a transcendent Intelligence, with a capital I, which created this universe! It should also be noted that these universal constants, pi,e, and square root -1, were at first thought by many to be completely transcendent of any material basis, to find that these transcendent constants of Euler's identity in fact 'govern' material reality, in such a foundational way, should be enough to send shivers down any mathematicians spine. Further discussion can be found here relating Euler's identity to General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics:
    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....ent-364379

    Here is a very well done video, showing the stringent 'mathematical proofs' of Euler's Identity:

    Euler's identity – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zApx1UlkpNs

    The mystery doesn't stop there, this following video shows how pi and e are found in Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1

    Euler's Identity – God Created Mathematics – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4003905
    This following website has the complete working out of the math of Pi and e in the Bible, in the Hebrew and Greek languages respectively, for Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1:
    http://www.biblemaths.com/pag03_pie/

    etc.. etc.. etc..

  27. The problem for Pigliucci, let’s assume we drop the machine metaphor, how will you described mechanisms that:

    1. pump
    2. translate
    3. code
    4. decode
    5. signal
    6. control
    7. error correct
    8. detect
    9. sense

    These are machine metaphors!!!!! Good luck trying to replace these very accurate description with politcially correct double speak!

  28. The heart is a pressure-increaser, not a pump.

    DNA is “evolved” to the proteins.

    Proteins naturally select the correct shape, randomly.

  29. Neil,

    Speaking of jumping to conclusions…

    We do know that DNA is highly specified information. During observation, the only source we have ever seen of highly specified information is an intelligent one. Is it jumping to conclusions do assume that materialistic processes can create DNA?

  30. Sorry folk.

    I had thought that I was making an honest comment on the question of whether the use of the machine metaphor posed a problem. And I thought I was agreeing that it was a problem.

    Apparently, many responders thought that I was attacking ID. But that was not my point at all. I see the problem both among ID proponents and among evolution proponents.

    I really don’t want to get into the morass of arguments on ID vs. evolution. I see that as a different topic, and I usually avoid commenting on posts that are more directly on that topic.

  31. 1- They ain’t mataphors

    2- The only people who have an issue with analogies are the people who don’t have any to draw upon- think about it what analogy can they use?- “Oh look at what that tornado did! That is evidence of what blind, undirected proceses can do!”

  32. mataphor?

    LoL

    metaphors- they ain’t metaphors…

  33. Here a shortened video of Scott Minnich describing the parts of the flagellum ‘machine’ that I just loaded:

    Bacterial Flagellum – Molecular Machine – Scott Minnich
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/5400167/

    note:

    references are in description of video.

  34. 34

    Neil,

    Your contribution here would have been much more interesting if you had actually engaged the issue. Twice in your personal blog you simply make the bald assertion that things are not designed, e.g. “It should be obvious that the world is not the product of design.”

    You preceded that comment with a throwaway statement about Hume, and followed it by completely removing any distinction between what is real and what men say about it (insisting that Kepler himself was the responsible party for the physical regularities he elucidated).

    I can see why you would wish to avoid engaging ID arguments on an ID forum; a more serious discussion might ensue.

  35. To Upright BiPed:

    I credit Kepler only for his stated laws. I do no say he is responsible for the way that the solar system actually behaves.

    The absence of any evidence of design is obvious to me. Others see it as obvious that there is design. There is no evidence that could settle the disagreement between the two sides.

    This is the comment thread to a blog post, and not an ID forum. Moreover, the particular thread is only peripherally related to ID. I am trying to be respectful of this site’s primary emphasis on ID by not becoming entangled in pointless arguments on inappropriate threads.

  36. To Neil, you claim the absence of any evidence for design is obvious to you? Is not it also obvious to you that a single grain of sand does not care for you? Since it is obvious that a single grain of sand cannot care for you why is the following finely parameter as it is?,,

    Evidence for Belief in God – Rich Deem
    Excerpt: Isn’t the immense size of the universe evidence that humans are really insignificant, contradicting the idea that a God concerned with humanity created the universe? It turns out that the universe could not have been much smaller than it is in order for nuclear fusion to have occurred during the first 3 minutes after the Big Bang. Without this brief period of nucleosynthesis, the early universe would have consisted entirely of hydrogen. Likewise, the universe could not have been much larger than it is, or life would not have been possible. If the universe were just one part in 10^59 larger, the universe would have collapsed before life was possible. Since there are only 10^80 baryons in the universe, this means that an addition of just 10^21 baryons (about the mass of a grain of sand) would have made life impossible. The universe is exactly the size it must be for life to exist at all.
    http://www.godandscience.org/a.....ntro2.html

    ,,, who put care into that single grain of sand Neil?

    My Beloved One – Inspirational Christian Song – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4200171

  37. 37

    Neil,

    Your assertion that no amount of evidence can settle the issue is unacceptible to the design hypothesis. Yours is an unscientific position.

    Enjoy your stay.

  38. Upright BiPed, in comment #34 wrote: “insisting that Kepler himself was the responsible party for the physical regularities he elucidated”.

    That was a misrepresentation of my point.

    Upright BiPed, in comment #37 wrote:
    “Your assertion that no amount of evidence can settle the issue …”

    That’s another misrepresentation of what I wrote.

    I seem to recall a principle about “do not bear false witness.”

  39. Really Neil, is that the best you can do? A guilt trip?

    I do hope you stick around.

  40. 40

    Neil,

    I’m trying to say this in as polite a way as I can. This IS an ID site, and this issue IS related to ID in a significant way in that it is an example of materialism pretending to be science. I suggest you go through KF’s recent thread regarding methodological naturalism and Lewontin’s famous line about not allowing a divine foot in the door.

    The only reason one would avoid using design metaphors in science is due to an a priori materialistic metaphysic, which as Kairosfocus pointed out in no uncertain terms, begs the question.

  41. Neil Rickert:
    The absence of any evidence of design is obvious to me. Others see it as obvious that there is design. There is no evidence that could settle the disagreement between the two sides.

    Ummm Neil, if it is demonstrated that blind, undirected processes can produce CSI or IC then ID falls.

    IOW there is evidence that could settle the disagreement. And it is worth noting that such evidence has yet be found.

    I would also go as far to say that the only “evidence”for design people lie you would accept is a meeting with the deigner(s), including watching the designer(s) in action.

  42. Perhaps they also need to write a paper reminding molecular biologists not to be ‘surprised’ at what they are finding in the efficient operation of the molecular machines:

    Cells Know Their Physics – October 2010
    Excerpt: the Complex I macromolecular complex. This machine employs a railroad-like piston and coupling-rod mechanism to create the proton gradient that drives ATP synthesis.“ It is remarkable that the most fundamental energy-generating machinery in cells is based on the wave properties of electrons, which allow for an efficient transport of energy-carrying particles along the chain of redox cofactors toward molecular oxygen via quantum tunneling as demonstrated by this study.”
    http://www.creationsafaris.com.....#20101027a

  43. Life is either intelligently organized or it is the result of an infinite series of serindipious accidents, that are somehow organized (no one has explained exactly how premature death manages to do such a thing) into a purposefully interacting system. Whether a deity participates in that organizing intelligence, or whether it is an organizing intelligence inate to nature will probably never be determined. Only those who are truly paranoid about religion find themselves stuck with the random mutation and natural selection explanation.
    A Few Impertinent Questions about Autism, Freudianism and Materialism

    http://30145.myauthorsite.com/

  44. Neil Rickert:

    I have read with interest the post on your blog. I have a few comments:

    1) Pigliucci and Boudry are particularly concerned with the use of metaphors in biology, such as the idea of DNA as a blueprint for the organism and the idea of the cell as a factory.

    I am not too sure that the “metaphor” angle is the right one here. For instance, I would never say that “DNA is the blueprint for the organism”, but I would definitely say that it contains specific information which the organism certainly needs. That rules away the “metaphor”, and describes DNA for what it really is: a mass memory.

    In the same way, I would never say that the “cell” is a “factory”. The cell is certainly much more than that. But it certainly contains, and uses, specific biochemical “machines”. This is not a metaphor, but a realistic description.

    IOWs, I agree that we need not “metaphors” in biology. We must describe things for what they are.

    2) My own experience in the world tells me that we humans are not machines.

    I absolutely agree. But that does not mean that in us there are not parts which are machines.

    3) Indeed, I see biological creatures as very different from designed things.

    Again, if you mean that living things are more than designed objects, I absolutely agree. But if you mean that, in living beings, there are not parts which are obviously designed and which work as designed machines, then I have to disagree.

    4) Perhaps the worst of the machine metaphors is the one that sees the brain as a computer. That has always seemed doubtful to me, so I find it no surprise that AI (artificial intelligence) has made so little progress in the 60 years since Turing’s famous paper.

    Again, the problem is not with metaphors here. AI believes that consciousness arises from the physical structure of the brain. That is a silly belief, and completely false. That’s why AI has made so little progress, and will go on making no further progress at all.

    Well, the brain “is” in part a computer. It certainly has great computing power. But it is more than that. And consciousness is much more than the brain. The brain is an interface for consciousness. But again, there is no doubt that part of it works as a computer (probably better). That part is obviously designed.

    5) In Linguistics, the mechanistic thinking from Chomsky has dominated the field for some time. Yet it is surely mistaken. The Wittgenstein view of language as a form of life seems to present a rather more realistic view of natural language. In philosophy we see what seems to be an excessive reliance of logic with its mechanistic rules of inference. Typically, within epistemology, knowledge is defined as justified true belief (or something similar), and that seems rather too mechanistic. And then the all too frequent arguments that deny free will are based on an overly mechanistic view of the world.

    Again I agree. I think we in ID have no desire to “reduce” conscious processes to mechanistic procedures. But we must recognize that mechanistic procedures are “used” by conscious processes. That is not reductionism, but simple realism.

    6) It should be obvious that the world is not the product of design.

    The only thing which is obvious is that the world is much more than a simple “product of design”, but that many aspects of it are certainly designed.

    7) For sure, I can look at Kepler’s laws of planetary motion, and see intelligent design in those laws. But the intelligent designer was none other than Johannes Kepler himself. If Kepler’s laws were part of the design of a mechanistic world, we would expect them to be followed exactly. Yet they are only an approximation. It took great skill and knowledge for Kepler to come up with a mathematically simple approximation that worked so well. But it is not evidence of an intelligently designed world.

    Here I don’t understand well your point. Let’s see. Mathematical laws and models certainly help us understand the world, and make us interact very efficiently with it.

    But mathemathical laws are njot “created” by us. They are rather “innate” in human mind (I am definitely a neoplatonist about mathemathics).

    The fact remains that they work for the outer world. OK, they are approximate, all of them, but that’s probably because our understanding is not complete, or because of objective computational difficulties. or because of objective measurement difficulties.

    It is interesting, however, that the most counter intuitive of physical “mathematical models”, QM, is also the most precise.

    The correspondence between outer world and inner mathematical laws is certainly a cognitive problem, which cannot be easily dismissed. It has nothing to do with metaphors. It is just an unexpected fact, the basis for true science and good philosophy.

    8) So, yes, I do see the overuse of such metaphors as bad for science, bad for philosophy, bad for theology.

    OK, so let’s get rid of them, and stick to facts:

    a) Living beings, while remaining an unfathomable reality for many aspects, certainly do contain, and use, biochemical machines. And enzyme is a machine. DNA is a mass memory. Ribosomes are machines. That is not a metaphor. It’s just what it is.

    b) But what is a machine? It’s simple. A machine is an object which has been structured by a conscious intelligent designer to perform a function, to achieve a purpose.

    Now, we must be very precise. The function, the purpose, are not in the machine. They are in the conscious representations of the designer. Or in the conscious representations of an observer. Only consciousness knows purposes.

    Nor, in any sense, is the machine, either biological or mechanical, a “metaphor” of that purpose. It is just an “instrument” of that purpose. It isn’t the same thing.

    DNA is a machine. Enzymes are machines. Ribosomes are machines. They serve purposes, well defined purposes. And they are designed.

    But in no sense they are “metaphors” of anything.

  45. This is a note of thanks to gpuccio for his thoughtful comment about my blog post. Perhaps they would have been better as comments on my blog, but that’s not up to me to decide. I did add a comment to my blog post with a pointer to that reply.

    I will probably respond in detail later, either as another comment to my blog post, or as a new blog post. I don’t want to get into that level of detail here, because it seems to take us a long way from the original topic of this thread.

  46. 46

    Neil,

    On your blog you say “I do see it as a problem when people seem to assert that DNA is part of a metaphysical category of information.”

    This comment could only logically come from someone who has an idea as to what information is.

    Will you please share that with us?

  47. Neil:

    Thank you for the note. I would certainly appreciate to go on with the discussion, which is rich of deep aspects.

    In general, I prefer to post here so that I can share the discussion with the others who have been following the debate on this blog. But if you prefer to post on your blog, and leave a note of that here, it’s fine for me.

  48. somewhat off topic:

    Meet Suzette, the chat program that convinced an expert she was human
    Excerpt: Have you met Suzette? If you have, you might not know it — because Suzette has passed the Turing Test. This chatbot convinced a judge that she was a human.

    The Loebner Prize is given out every year for the machine that can fool a judge they’re talking to a person for the space of a conversation. The judge chats to both a human and a machine about a few subjects – such as “What is a hammer for?” – and at the end of the time period, the judge has to pick which is the bot. After a twenty-five minute conversation with Suzette, a judge picked wrong.

    Suzette’s secret? Good, old-fashioned human manipulation. She diverted the conversation away from subjects she couldn’t keep up in, and stayed in her comfort zone. You can have a quick talk with Suzette here.
    http://io9.com/5673836/meet-su.....-was-human

    ————-

    related notes:

    The DNA Code – Solid Scientific Proof Of Intelligent Design – Perry Marshall – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4060532

    …”A code system is always the result of a mental process (it requires an intelligent origin or inventor). It should be emphasized that matter as such is unable to generate any code. All experiences indicate that a thinking being voluntarily exercising his own free will, cognition, and creativity, is required. ,,,there is no known law of nature and no known sequence of events which can cause information to originate by itself in matter. Werner Gitt 1997 In The Beginning Was Information pp. 64-67, 79, 107.”
    (The retired Dr Gitt was a director and professor at the German Federal Institute of Physics and Technology (Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt, Braunschweig), the Head of the Department of Information Technology.)

    Algorithmic Information Theory, Free Will and the Turing Test – Douglas S. Robertson
    Chaitin’s Algorithmic Information Theory shows that information is conserved under formal mathematical operations and, equivalently, under computer operatio…ns. This conservation law puts a new perspective on many familiar problems related to artificial intelligence. For example, the famous “Turing test” for artificial intelligence could be defeated by simply asking for a new axiom in mathematics. Human mathematicians are able to create axioms, but a computer program cannot do this without violating information conservation. Creating new axioms and free will are shown to be different aspects of the same phenomena: the creation of new information.
    http://www3.interscience.wiley.....8;SRETRY=0

    LIFE’S CONSERVATION LAW – William Dembski – Robert Marks – Pg. 13
    Excerpt: Simulations such as Dawkins’s WEASEL, Adami’s AVIDA, Ray’s Tierra, and Schneider’s ev appear to support Darwinian evolution, but only for lack of clear accounting practices that track the information smuggled into them.,,, Information does not magically materialize. It can be created by intelligence or it can be shunted around by natural forces. But natural forces, and Darwinian processes in particular, do not create information. Active information enables us to see why this is the case.
    http://evoinfo.org/publication.....ation-law/

  49. Entire article:

    Prizewinning chatbot steers the conversation
    http://www.newscientist.com/ar.....nline-news

  50. Hi Neill, “The absence of any evidence of design is obvious to me. Others see it as obvious that there is design. There is no evidence that could settle the disagreement between the two sides.”

    There is information and that settles everything. There is no information apart from language and there is no language apart from code(s), rules, free will, and arbitrary (not law based) agreement. There is no way to account for information apart from design. I predict that a perpetual motion machine will be built long before information is created by means of physical law only.

    The “funny” thing about this is that the challenge has been on the table for years. All one has to do to falsify ID is create information apart from language with physical processes, i.e. the laws of physics. Can’t happen. It’s logically impossible. Someone might as well claim that 1 = 2.

  51. Neil:

    I think a read here might be of help when you set out to respond to GP’s remarks.

    When it comes to digitally coded, functionally specific, complex information, that is a rather familiar entity from the world of information systems technology. DNA contains similar digitally coded, functionally specific, complex info used to specify protein assembly, and to regulate the process.

    This is not metaphor or metaphysical speculation, it is instantiation of an empirically observable phenomenon: a coded signal. The difference is DNA uses a 4-state code element, and uses it in triplets to specify amino acids, start and stop.

    You might find it helpful to look at the protein code table here.

    It is no accident that that article — from a site notoriously strongly committed to the evolutionary materialistic view of origins — begins:

    The genetic code is the set of rules by which information encoded in genetic material (DNA or mRNA sequences) is translated into proteins (amino acid sequences) by living cells. The code defines a mapping between tri-nucleotide sequences, called codons, and amino acids. With some exceptions,[1] a triplet codon in a nucleic acid sequence specifies a single amino acid . . .

    GEM of TKI

  52. tgpeeler says:

    There is no information apart from language and there is no language apart from code(s), rules, free will, and arbitrary (not law based) agreement. There is no way to account for information apart from design.

    I don’t actually have a problem with that. But, in that case, all information results from human design. So DNA is not information, though it can be said to encode information because humans consider the genetic code (normally written as letters) to be a code.

  53. Actually Neil Rickert, Information is shown to be its own unique entity completely separate from matter-energy, space-time, in quantum teleportation experiments. In fact ‘transcendent information’ is shown to be ‘more’ foundational to reality than matter-energy in those same experiments by transcendent information exercising dominion of matter-energy.

  54. scordova,

    I’m still trying to come up with terms for body parts that make them sound like non-machines. Tell me if you think I succeed. :)

    A brain is a thought conduit.

    A heart is a value-adding, blood pow wow.

    DNA is a set of random accidents frozen in time.

    Bacterial flagellum is a reed shaken in the wind

    the eye is a… well, you’ve got me there.

    I actually think it would be a good idea for ID-ers to start calling things by un-mechanical names in order to show how ridiculous it actually is to not think of them as machines. (I liked my brain=thought conduit one the best. It’s exactly like post-modernist mumbo jumbo).

  55. The Hammer, Anvil and Stirrup will now be called the vestigial, non-designed, floating ear-bone thingies. Since hammers, anvils and stirrups are things that are designed and made for a purpose, we should not use those terms for body parts. And the Achilles tendon will now be called the Trojan tendon.

  56. Collin:

    Really funny. And you are right, the thought conduit brain is the best!

    Shall we call all that “a politically correct approach to function”?

  57. Neil Rickert (#52):

    The point is that we in ID believe (for reasons) that design is the product of a conscious intelligent being who imparts a specific form to an output for a specific purpose. And that complex functional information is a sure mark of design.

    There is no reason to believe a priori that consciousness, intelligence and purpose are exclusive characteristics of humans.

    That’s why, observing complex functional information in DNA, we infer design, even if the designer may not be human.

    That’s the design inference for biological information, in a nutshell.

  58. All boiled down, Neil’s last post suggest that information has requirements limited to design – but design can’t be true because man was not there to be the designer.

    Why is it we must assume man created rules and symbols, particularly when the intractable evidence says otherwise?

  59. Neil:

    Pardon, but on what just happened above [cf. 51 with your remarks in 52], I cannot help the feeling that you are being selectively hyperskeptical, picking and choosing the facts you are willing to address.

    Citing 52 (and let us contrast the cite in 51 just above it):

    . . . all information results from human design. So DNA is not information, though it can be said to encode information because humans consider the genetic code (normally written as letters) to be a code.

    Cf the informational language of the excerpt in 51, from a generic reference notoriously sympathetic to evolutionary materialistic views on origins:

    The genetic code is the set of rules by which <information encoded in genetic material (DNA or mRNA sequences) is translated into proteins (amino acid sequences) by living cells. The code defines a mapping between tri-nucleotide sequences, called codons, and amino acids. With some exceptions,[1] a triplet codon in a nucleic acid sequence specifies a single amino acid . . .

    the issue is not whether something can be SAID, but whether what is said corresponds accurately to observable reality. And in this case, it is plain that specifically functional, complex, digitally [= discrete state] coded information is expressed by having particular sequences of the A, C, G, T/U monomers in D/RNA polymer chains.

    The resulting D/RNA molecules are based on linear polymerisation of a certain class of sugars. (Leave off for the moment the issues on how some of the sugars — very endothermic, as complex — could have spontaneously formed in Darwin’s warm little electrified pond or a modern equivalent.)

    Polymerisation along the sugar-phosphate backbone and even homochirality, however, do not in themselves store information.

    The chain [remember, all these reactions are formed under enzyme control, and enzymes are coded for in the same molecules . . . ] is simply what gets us to a string data structure. Strings, being a fundamental data structure type from which others may be built.

    The chaining chemistry has nothing to do with the code already linked and excerpted on at 51 above.

    And, that code is not simply a human projection unto the facts of DNA.

    The code is objectively observable as a machine language, similar to what can be detected in say a microcontroller ROM. That digitally coded information — one can see the codon table [more traditional RNA table here], similar to the tables for interpreting machine code [though of course the focus of the DNA table is on sequenced data, implying the instruction to the ribosome complex "add XX-type amino acid next" until a stop codon is encountered"] — is used, step by step, to initiate, chain and complete protein chains. Proteins then being folded, agglomerated and activated for use in ever so many life functions.

    that is, incormational, coded macromolecules used in algorithmic processes, lie at the heart of life.

    And label and dismiss rhetoric that arbitrarily tries to insist that humans are the only sources of information is therefore flying in the teeth of patent facts in the public record for decades.

    DNA is a code-storing molecule at the heart of cell-based life.

    Cell based life that necessarily preceded and is foundational to human existence.

    In short, codes, algorithms and implementing machinery preceded and are foundational to cell based life on earth. Such codes — on empirical evidence and in light of the only reasonable cause of such incredibly isolated complexity in the field of possible configurations of the relevant atoms and molecules — is strong evidence that intentionally directed configuration [i.e. intelligent design] is causally prior to cell based life on earth.

    And, hemming and hawing about “analogies” and trying to definitionally pin “information” or “intelligence” down to humans is therefore utterly without justification.

    Similarly, the point that the physics of the observed cosmos is at a fine-tuned operational point that facilitates the existence of cell based, C-chemistry life forms, points to design of the cosmos to facilitate such life.

    So, dismissive talk about there being “no evidence” that invites a design inference is plainly a refusal to see what is there for all of us to inspect. (Cf here for a start, if you need a short, simple survey.)

    Such rhetoric simply tells astute onlookers that — desperate rearguard actions notwithstanding — the debate is over.

    Let us not forget, abductive inference to best current, empirically warranted explanation of the body of observed facts is the fundamental method of justifying scientific knowledge. In this case, effects begin to exist, so are contingent, and have causes. Causal factors in science [and everyday life and decision-making] tend to be classifiable as exhibiting chance, mechanical necessity and intelligence as defining characteristics. Each leaves empirically distinct traces. And, functionally specific complex organisation and related information are characteristic of design, per empirically reliable induction on a great many cases where we do independe4ntly know the causal factor.

    In short, such functionally specific, complex information and associated organisation are signatures of design.

    And, in that context, the attempts over the past 150 years to make it seem plausible that the patterns of functional complexity in life that were traditionally seen as pointing to the design of life could instead be explained without residue on chance and necessity, have now plainly failed once the coded information-based complexity of the cell has been elucidated.

    Especially, when it was realised that the key problem is not to explain incremental variation of existing, functional body plans; but the origin of such body plans, starting with the first, i.e the origin of cell based life embedding BOTH metabolic function AND a von Neumann-type self-replicating facility based on coded, stored information. (Cf Section A here.)

    The only credible, empirically well-warranted causal explanation for such dFSCI in action is intelligence. And, we are well-warranted to infer from sign to signified.

    GEM of TKI

  60. Neil Rickert:

    But, in that case, all information results from human design. So DNA is not information,…

    Non-sequitur.

    … though it can be said to encode information because humans consider the genetic code (normally written as letters) to be a code.

    It is a code that is why we consider it to be a code.

  61. Well Neil has been kind enough to allow me to post on his blog and I posted the following:

    But anyway you guys could get rid of the use of metaphors if you actually step up and start supporting the claims for your position!

    Imagine that instead of constantly bitching you actually find some positive evidence to support your nonsense.

    Any bets on how long that challenge goes unanswered?

  62. I have posted a response to gpuccio (comment #57 above), at Information, consciousness and all that. That also addresses some of the points raised by others.

    As I said in that blog post, “information” is a slippery concept, and people have different ideas on what it means. That is the likely source of much of the disagreement showing up in comments here.

    For those who are posting related comments to my blog, please try to keep it reasonably civil. Thus far, it hasn’t been too bad and I would hope to keep it that way.

  63. NR:

    At UD, in the short glossary, we have used a simple, easily found definition of information:

    Information — Wikipedia, with some reorganization, is apt: “ . . that which would be communicated by a message if it were sent from a sender to a receiver capable of understanding the message . . . . In terms of data, it can be defined as a collection of facts [i.e. as represented or sensed in some format] from which conclusions may be drawn [and on which decisions and actions may be taken].”

    In particular, the relevant information we are dealing with in the case of DNA is or is reducible to digitally coded string structures.

    GEM of TKI

  64. scordova,

    I’m still trying to come up with terms for body parts that make them sound like non-machines. Tell me if you think I succeed.

    A brain is a thought conduit.

    A heart is a value-adding, blood pow wow.

    That’s the idea! Or one will have to come up with a new vocabulary of totally made up words.

    So instead of saying DNA is translated, we make up word, oh, how about “gorfilate”. But unfortuantely this won’t work to well either since the biology teacher like Massimo Pigliucci will have to say:

    “gorfilating” is a translational process, it decodes encoded information much like (gasp), er machines….students you didn’t here me just use the word machine, decode or translante!

    Think only gorfilate, forget that it resembles mechanical processes in the engineering world (even though the anlogy will actually help you comprehend), but you must police your thoughts and that of others even if it means you have less comprehension of how the world is really put together.

    Massimo is fighting an impossible battle. Design metaphors are here to stay.

  65. Neil:

    Thank you for your detailed post. It certainly offers a chance to go deeper into some important arguments. I will try to do that here, to a certain degree, following your inputs.

    1) That almost sounds as if it could be the basis of a scientific hypothesis. However, to make it a scientific hypothesis, you would need

    I believe it is, and I will try to show why. In the following reasonung, which I have repeated many times on this blog, I will try to remain completely empirical. My only premise is that I consider consciousness and its represented events as empirical facts, which must be considered as they are, and included as they are in our scientific map of reality. IOWs, I believe that science has to include consciousness as a primary fact.

    The basis for that is that conscious representations are directly expereinced by each of us (in our personal consciousness). That makes them facts. Indeed, they are “the mother of all facts”. All other facts are known in consciousness, and only in consciousness.

    It is true that consciousness in other human beings is not experienced directly. But is is very reasonable inferred, by analogy. Almost nobody (except convinced solypsists, if any really exists) doubts that.

    In the same way, cosnciousness can be inferred in higher animals, always by analogy. That inference is in some way weaker, and lesser universal. But I would definitely accept it. As you say, the inference becomes weaker as we proceed towards animals which are “simpler”. or other forms of life.

    So, for the following discussion, I will stick only to humans, for which the inference of consciousness in others is very universally shared by practically all.

    IOWs, I will use in my discussion these two important premises:

    a) I am conscious (observed fact)

    b) Other human beings are conscious (general inference by analogy), very much like me.

    Again, for me this is not phylosophy. This is part of descriptive science.

    So, let’s go on.

    2) A way of characterizing “conscious intelligent being” that could be applied objectively, reliably and repeatedly by multiple independent experimenters;

    It exists. Try this:

    a) A conscious being is any being which has conscious representations, such as those I experiment in myself and infer in other human beings. IOWs, any being who represents different things as related to one perceiving self.

    b) A conscious being can be defined as “intelligent” if he is able to output CSI (or better, dFSCI). More on that later.

    Please, note that while a) is a true definition, b) is an operational definition. It does not say what intelligence is, but how we can recognize it with certainty. I am not interested, here, in giving a true definition of “intelligence”, because it would not be useful for my discussion.

    Note also that b) probably can distinguish between humans and animals. I don’t mean by that that animals have no intelligence. Only that I am here restricting the operational definition of intelligence to the ability to output CSI, becasue that’s the only aspect which will be needed in the following discussion. Of course, broader definitions of intelligence are perfectly correct, and they would include many aspects of animal life.

    So I am not saying that my definitions are universally valid (although I do believe that a) is). I have built them so that they can be “applied objectively, reliably and repeatedly by multiple independent experimenters”. I believe they satisy that requirement. If you don’t, we can discuss that.

    3) A way of characterizing “complex functional information” that could be applied objectively, reliably and repeatedly by multiple independent experimenters.

    It exists. I have given it here many times.

    For simplicity, I always stick to a subset of CSI, which I call dFSCI: “digital functionally specified complex information”. I don’t want to give here again a long definition, so I will keep short, postponing eventual details to what your personal doubts will be.

    a) Any string which can be read as a seried of digital values

    b) For which a conscious observer can define objectively a function, so that the definition can be understood an shared by other conscious observers, and an objective, explicit way to measure if that function is present or not

    c) For which complexity can be measured as the ratio of the functional space (the number of strings of the same kind which do have the function) to the search space (the number if all possible strings of the same kind). IOWs, the complexity is the inverse of the probability to find a functional string (of that kind) by a random search. It is usually measured in Fits (functional bits).

    d) For which the complexity measured as in c) is higher than a conventional threshold, which must be established for each context. I have suggested, for a generic biological context, 150 bits.

    A final condition, rather important, is that the complexity must be equivalent to the Kolmogorov complexity: IOWs, the string must be scarcely compressible. Another way of saying that is that there must be no known simple algorithm which can generate that string by necessity.

    That is the definition. I remain available to discuss any aspect of it, as I have always done here.

    Just to be more clear, I offer a simple example of an object exhibiting dFSCI. An enzyme with a clear biochemical function (for instance, to accelerate reaction A at least of such and such), whose functional complexity, measured for instance by the Durston metrics, exceeds 150 bits (most enzymes or proteins will fit into that).

    Well I think I will split my answer into not too long posts :)

  66. Neil (continued):

    4) If you had such clear characteristics, and their reliability had been tested broadly – not just with conscious humans and human information systems – then you could begin to seek evidence to corroborate or falsify the hypothesis.

    We do have such clear characteristics. They have been tested on all available systems for which we are reasonably sure if a designer (a conscious intelligent being) was involved or not in the making. That includes all complex human outputs for which we directly know a human designer was involved, and all non designed systems for which we reasonably know that no designer was involved.

    dFSCI can easily be foiund in most of the first category, and never in the second category.

    The only important category for which we cannot say if it was desined or not is biological information. And it definitely exhibits dFSCI, in great abundance.

    For me, that’s more than enough for a strong scientific inference.

    5) The difficultly is that both “consciousness” and “information” are very slippery concepts.

    They are not, if we don’t want them to be. I have given definitions which are not slippery at all.

    6) We are not close to being able to suitable characterize either. And without some such characterization, then you are talking philosophy or theology, rather than science.

    I don’t agree. Please explain what is phylosophy or theology in my definitions. I maintain that they are simple and empirical. They require no special philosophy.

    7) I mostly want to talk about information in this post, because it is not nearly as slippery as consciousness, though it is still rather slippery. Dembski attempted to characterize information with his work on “complex specified information.” In my estimation, that effort was a failure.

    Consciousness, as I have defined it, is not slippery at all. It is an observed fact. It is as slippery as a stone or a lake. We just observe those things, and agree on a name for them.

    Please, explain why my definition of dFSCI is a failure.

    Again, a stop.

  67. [SARCASM]
    Other metaphors?

    Whales have SONAR and so do bats. We didn’t really know they had sonar for most of human history because SONAR wasn’t really implemented till around the time of World War II. OOPS, calling SONAR in whales and bats would be bad since that would suggest Intelligent Deisgn.

    Same would be true for the Monarch Butterfly navigation system which allows it to navigate without road signs or GPS to trees which it never saw in its life but where its parents and grand parents lived. But we can’t use the word “navigation” especially for monarch butterflies since it would belie engineering capabilities rivaling our best scientists!

    Or how about the transducers in the eye and ear and the amplifiers in the nose. OOPS we can’t use those words since they suggest design.

    Computer languages in the cell. Well we didn’t appreaciate that these things were in the cell until we started building computers. OOPS we can use such notions since that also suggests design!

    [/SARCASM]

  68. Here is something as good asPaley’s watch:

    their extraordinary annual migration from North America to Mexico, monarch butterflies are known to use the angle of polarized sunlight as a celestial guide to help them keep to a straight and true path southward. But details of their navigational machinery have remained a mystery.


    Their findings show that the same ultraviolet light that has become an anathema to cancer-wary humans is critical for butterfly navigation. Also, the researchers were surprised to discover a key wiring connection between the light-detecting navigation sensors in the butterfly’s eye and the creature’s circadian clock–a critical link if the butterflies are to compensate for the time of day in using their “sun compass.”

    The researchers also pinpointed the location of the circadian clock in the butterfly brain. Such circadian clocks govern the approximately 24 hour activity and metabolic cycles of animals from the simplest insects to humans. Reppert and his colleagues found that key genes responsible for the clock’s molecular “ticks” were expressed in a brain region called the dorsolateral protocerebrum. Using tracer molecules, they were surprised to discover tiny neural fibers containing a key clock protein that connected with the polarization photoreceptors in the butterfly eye.

    “This pathway has not been described in any other insect, and it may be a hallmark feature of butterflies that use a time-compensated sun compass,”

    Monarch Butterfly Navigation

    [SARCASM]
    OOPS! We can’t use word like clock can compass, because it suggests Intelligent Design, even though those words are the best descriptions to further scientific understanding, we must police these thoughts at all costs. Especially using the notion of a Watch since it suggests Paley’s Watch!
    [/SARCASM]

  69. Neil (continued):

    8) However, there is a great deal of disagreement over what those terms mean. People disagree over whether dogs are conscious. For the record, I do consider dogs to be conscious, but I am not at all sure how to assess whether ants or bees or butterflies are conscious.

    I agree with you. That’s why I stick to myself (observed conscious representations) and other humans (universally inferred conscious representations). That’s enough. Whether animal are conscious or not (and I do believe they are) cannot certainly change the simple fact that we are conscious. So, we can go on with our discussion even if we have not universally solved the problem for animals. We are making science, after all, not phylosophy. We need not find all the answers.

    9) The AI people think that intelligence is achievable by logic coding in computers. I disagree with them.

    I disagree too. If I were not careful to try not to be explicitly offensive against anyone, I would simply say that the AI people are stupid :)

    Let’s just say that they believe things for which there is no support, either logical or empirical.

    10) So obviously, I disagree with the AI folk on what “intelligence” means.

    I hope you don’t disagree with me. For me, intelligence, however you may define it, is always a cognitive aspect of conscious representations. There can be no intelligence out of consciousness.

    11) And the question of what we mean by “purpose” is another can of worms.

    No. Purpose is a sentimental aspect of conscious representations. It is representing some things as “desired”, and others as “undesired”, and then acting on that.

    I will be more clear: the “can of worms” of which you speak certainly exists, and it has one and only one cause: the attempt made by reductionist materialists to “steal” the language born and used for conscious representations and apply it to non conscious objects. From that basic “lie” come all the worms you speak of, like strong AI theory or compatibilism.

    But, if we have no reason to lie, those worms are not necessary.

    12) In short, none of those terms are suitable for use in science.

    Not true, as I have tried to show.

    13) This does not mean that science cannot investigate them, but in order to investigate them, it will need to be able to better characterize them. And if it can more precisely characterize them, then it can only study what it has characterized, which might be different from our ordinary meanings for those terms.

    I have tried to characterize them as well as possible. And I don’t believe that my characterizaiont is “different from our ordinary meanings for those terms”. Indeed, I am very proud that it catches exactly those meanings.

    My point is that those meanings have come from observation: they just describe conscious representations for what they are, without trying to build an artificial theory about them. This is science, and not phylosophy. What we need is only a good linguistic agreement about those terms, and about how they describe our experience. It’s not difficult. Humans have done that for millennia. AI people seem to have difficulties. But that’s their problem, not mine.

    Stop, and change of subject.

  70. Neil (continued):

    14) So let’s get back to information.

    Let’s do it!

    15) Our primary example of information, is human language. And the idea that information requires consciousness, very likely comes from our experience with human language.

    I am fine with that. Or it just comes from the fact that the word has always been related to our conscious representations:

    from “dictionary.com:

    “knowledge acquired through experience or study”

    “late 14c., “act of informing,” from O.Fr. informacion , from L. informationem (nom. informatio ) “outline, concept, idea,” noun of action from informare (see inform). Meaning “knowledge communicated” is from c.1450″

    And so on.

    16) Computer programming languages are very different from human language, and the lack the richness of natural language.

    Here, IMO, you become a little confused. Computer programming languages are human languages, created by humans. But I agree that they “lack the richness of natural language”. That’s because the purpose in designing them was not to speak to other normal humans, but to program computers so that other programmers could understand. But they still are “human languages”. And they still express conscious representations.

    17) Computers that are entirely mechanical and that have no purposes of there own, are easily able to use computer languages

    No. Computers are programmed by humans who use computer languages created by humans for that.

    Computers neither understand nor “use” computer languages, because they have no consciousness nor purpose. They just do what they have been programmed to do.

    18) but nobody has been able to have them fully cope with natural language.

    That’s probably because “natural language” badly need conscious understanding. It is a constant output of new dFSCI. Computers can’t do that, because they are not conscious.

    In a sense, computers can very well “cope with natural language”: they can for instance output it if it has already been inputted in them. That’s not understanding. That’s not design. That’s not new dFSCI.

    In the other sense, computers don’t even “cope” with computer language. They just output what has been inputted, after inputted and programmed computations. Computers are computers. They compute what they have been made to compute. Nothing else.

    19) The type of inference that you want to use would seem to lead to: computers can use computer languages; therefore computers are conscious.

    Absolutely not. Computers cannot use computer languages. They execute them. Computers cannot create new, original dFSCI. They can just use what has been inputted in the, like all non conscious systems.

    20) However, nobody believes that conclusion. That’s why one has to be very cautious about reasoning from analogy.

    I have never made that conclusion, and I don’t believe it. And I am very cautious. The inference by analogy I suggest is so cautious that it has never been falsified. There is no single instance of new dFSCI created by a non cosncious system. dFSCI is always the output of design.

    21) The genetic code is far simpler than computer languages, so we should be even more cautious about analogies there.

    The genetic code is certainly simpler, but a protein gene isn’t. My inference is based mainly on the functional sequences in the genomes and proteomes.

    But the genetic code is complex enough, if you include in it all the transcriprion and translation system, without which it would have no meaning or function.

    For instance, each of the 20 individual proteins which “couple” the right aminoacid to the right tRNS, the true “guardians” of the code, is abundantly above the threshold of dFSCI.

    Moreover, the important fact about the genetic code itself is not so much its “complexity”, but the fact that it is completely symbolic, an aspect which is really characteristic of abstract design.

    22) When I am using a key to unlock my front door, then I don’t think of that key as being information.

    You are wrong. It is information, but analogic information. I stick to the digital form, because we can deal with it more easily.

    23) Rather, I think of it as having a mechanical shape such as is needed for the mechanical operations of the lock.

    That’s exactly what analogic information is.

    24) If, however, I had a combination lock, then I would have thought of the combination as information. I hope you can see the difference there.

    Yes. It’s the difference between analogic and digital information. The difference between a vinyl record and a CD.

    25) With a combination lock, the combination can be remembered, transmitted, written in the form of numbers or other symbols that are detached from the causal operations.

    The same is true of a vinyl record, or of a key. Have you ever made a duplicate of a key? And the information in a vinyl record (or in a key) can certainly be written in numbers. That’s what an AD converter does.

    26) And it is that detachment or abstraction that leads me to think of it as information, rather than as a mechanical shape.

    Like many people, you seem to have difficulties in thinking of analogic information as information. You are wrong in that, but that’s one of the reasons why I stick to digital information in my discussions. It’s easier.

    27) DNA is far more like the mechanical key with mechanical shape.

    This is completely wrong. DNA is digital information. It is in no way analogic. It is digital, written in base four code, with three letter words having specific meaning. There can be no doubt about that. I am speaking, obviously, of protein coding genes.

    28) However, when scientists write down a genetic code as a sequence of letters, that is more like the combination for a combination lock, in that it is detached from the causal operations.

    No. It’s not scientists who “write down a genetic code as a sequence of letters”. That is only a human simplification. Genes are written in a three nucleotides sequence of words, each representing an aminoacid or a stop signal.

    It’s not scientists who have “written” the genetic code. The genetic code is written in the translation system. Scientists have just “read” it from where it is written.

    Another stop.

  71. Neil (continued):

    29) The main reason that I have interest in questions about information, is that I have been studying issues related to human consciousness. And you cannot study consciousness without considering the role of information.

    Agreed.

    30) Many AI proponents take a very broad view of information. If there is a lightning flash nearby, and that causes surges (perhaps small surges) in the wiring in your home, they would consider those surges to be information. Some of them even go so far as to say that the moon is a computer, and it is computing its orbit as it goes. These are examples of the overuse of metaphors. And my main reason for taking a restricted view of what is information, is to avoid that kind of nonsense.

    Well, if there is a single thing about which we seem to agree, it’s our opinion about the AI people. Although mine is probably rougher than yours :)

    31) My preferred view is to consider something to be information, only within the constraints of an information system.

    Why? Don’t imitate the AI people. Information is information only in consciousness. An information system is not conscious. It cam bear information, but never recognize it. You always need a conscious observer to recognize information. There is no other way.

    So, an information system can certainly bear information, or process it. But for the system, that will never be information at all. An information system is not different from a page where a poem has been written.

    32) That makes “information” a relative term, relative to the information system being considered.

    We have no reason to make “information” a relative term. It must have a meaning for a conscious being.

    Please note that here I am using “information” in its proper sense, of functional information, or if you prefer meaningful information, not in the merely mathemathical sense it has in Shannon’s theory (after all, Shannon was well aware that he was not dealing with the concept of information in his theory).

    33) If I am talking on the telephone, and the TV is on in the background, then I am going to be considering the telephone conversation to be the information, and what is coming from the TV I will consider as noise to be filtered out. This sort of filtering, distinguishing between information and noise, is an important part of what a cognitive system does, and it is actually an important part of what any information system does. Even the ethernet card on your computer is designed to filter out noise that is not part of the ethernet signaling.

    That’s fine for me, and it just reiterates the importance of a conscious observer to define information. An “information system” is not a cognitive system, unless it is perceived by a conscious observer.

    34) If you want to consider DNA as part of an information system, I don’t have a problem with that. But it does require identifying the information system and identifying what is the information.

    That’s easy. The information system is in the cell, it includes the genes, the transcription system and the translations system. Its final output is a functional protein.

    Obviously, that required a cosncious intelligent being to design it, and requires (to be acknowledged, but not to just work) conscious intelligent observers who recognize the function in the system.

    But the information system is in the cell. We just become aware of it. Exactly as we become aware of the meaning of a poem when we read it from the page.

    35) As for a role for consciousness, it is in the human identification of DNA as an information system. So we decide what we will consider to be consider to be the codes, what we will consider to be encoded.

    No. You are wrong here. DNA is an information system. We just passively recogniuze that. Aliens would arrive to the same conclusion. Any conscious intelligent being would arrive at the same consclusion, given enough information.

    We are not making up the conclusion. We just discover it. Because it is there, in the facts.

    We cannot decide what the code is. The code is written in the systrem, we cannot reinvent it.

    We cannot decide what is encoded, The protein is encoded, and nothing else. We don’t know how to make that functional protein. The gene does.

    So, we really “decide” nothing. We just observe, and understand, and recognize what is obviously there.

    36) When we look at what actually happens in a cell, we see only causal actions. If what the cell is doing can be said to be purposeful, then we are only talking about the purposes we ascribe to the cell. We have no basis for saying that the cell has intrinsic purposes of its own.

    Wrong. We don’t see only “causal actions”. We see a pattern, and we see functions.

    An enzyme makes something that no simple catalyst does: it accelerates incredibly chemical reactions which would never happen that way in a normal chemical setting. That is a funtion. It is useful, it is necessary. Cells die without those functions, tyey often die if even one of those functions is lost. Whether we observe it or not, they die.

    We are not saying that “the cell has intrinsic purposes of its own”. The cell did not write its own genes. A designer wrote them. And that designer certainly “had intrinsic purposes of its own”, A cell may have intrinsic purposes, but I don’t believe that writing a new functional protein gene may be among them. A cell is not a designer.

    37) The ID position seems to take information as an absolute universal, rather than as something relative to an information system. And that kind of thinking can be very misleading.

    The ID position is that complex functional information is needed in biological beings, like in complex machines. That such an information is there, otherwise biological beings could not exists. That such an information can only be designed.

    Information sistems are designed. They are machines.A designer is needed to explain both the information system and the information it contains.

    I don’t see why that would be misleading. It is not.

    38) I don’t expect ID folk to suddenly change their ideas on my say so. I would hope that they can at least understand that there are legitimate reasons for disagreeing with their view of information.

    I am very interested in what you say. And the reasons why you disagree with ID are, although IMO wrong, certainly legitimate. Why shouldn’t thay be? Any sincere reason is legitimate.

    All I can do is comment on those reasons while respecting them, as I have tried to do in these 38 points :)

  72. This is a brief note of thanks to gpuccio for his detailed response to me in #65, #66, #69, #70, #71.

    You obviously spent a lot of time preparing those. Yet what is clear, is the extent of our disagreement. It is clear that we have very different ideas about the world and our relation to that world. And we have very different ideas as to what constitutes science.

    I did add a comment to my blog, referencing your multipart response. I am undecided on whether to give a detailed response. My current inclination is to leave your response without a detailed reply from me, and then anybody reading the discussion can decide for themselves as to how they want to look at the world.

  73. Neil:

    Thank you for the not ice. as y Please, do as you think best. I appreciate your position anyway.

  74. For all those who may be interested.

    A discussion about this topic is going on on Neils’ blog, here:

    http://nwrickert.wordpress.com.....metaphors/

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