Home » Intelligent Design » More on the “fruit flies that think”

More on the “fruit flies that think”

Recently, I reported on an experiment with fruit flies that showed that the flies are not robotic, but can engage in spontaneous behavior.

In a recent Daily Telegraph article, Roger Highfield explains:

“The point here is that the people claiming that free will doesn’t exist say that one day we will be able to show exactly why a murderer must necessarily have acted the way he did by looking closely at his brain. We can show that you cannot even do this in fly brains, as a matter of principle.”

That’s the key, of course. It is a matter of principle (actually, fact) that flies do not behave like robots.

Also,

These results caught computer scientist and lead author Alexander Maye from the University of Hamburg by surprise: “I would have never guessed that simple flies who otherwise keep bouncing off the same window have the capacity for nonrandom spontaneity if given the chance.”

Great fly graphics too.

I am not sure, however, that the researchers have discovered in flies what humans mean by free will. They have discovered something that natural philosophers have always known: Life forms, even simple ones, are not like machines.

Life forms pursue goals generated from within themselves. The difference between your computer and the fly buzzing around your computer is not merely that the fly is vastly more complex than your computer.

A much more important difference is that the fly does not need you to tell it how to be a fly. Your computer, by contrast, has no internal motives or goals and will do nothing you don’t ask for (or that someone somewhere in the software industry didn’t ask for), except by accident.

The researchers had expected to find that flies behaved like computers (with natural selection presumably playing the role of the software engineer), but they did not.

Contrary to the hopes of the artificial intelligence (AI) crowd, making the computer more complex would probably not give it what the fly has naturally. The fly’s autonomy (or spontaneity, as the researchers called it) is an aspect of life, as opposed to mechanism, that we do not yet understand. I am sure it is understandable in principle, but continued adherence to materialism makes it unlikely that we will understand any time soon.

In that context, the articles I have seen on this subject close with the fond hope that this discovery will enable us to build robots that have an inner sense of purpose and provide a (mechanical) fix for people whose mental problems that inhibit spontaneity. Sigh.

Also at the Mindful Hack:

Primate ancestor had small brain, but don’t think that Darwinists will see that as a setback for Darwinism. Indeed, this story beautifully illustrates the reason why Darwinism cannot be disconfirmed.

Michael Novak, reviewing Christopher Hitchens discusses the mindset within Western Christianity that made science possible.

Secular fundamentalism in Turkey promotes renewed interest in democracy among the religious.

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9 Responses to More on the “fruit flies that think”

  1. It doesn’t suprise me that there is a degree of
    spontaneity to fruit flies behavior. I don’t exactly
    know what materialists believe, but certainly it can’t
    be that initial conditions + boundary conditions+
    physical laws determine the course of
    events in our universe. Surely that idea died
    in the early 1900′s with the ideas that were
    born out of quantum theory (QT).

    Does that mean that QT can be used to
    explain mental patients and other
    abnormal behavior? No, because
    our brains as well as other large
    animals are too large, and therefore,
    what we see are average properties emerging.
    However, fruit flies brains are not so large. I
    don’t know anything about fruit flies, but
    it may be that fruit flies brains are small
    enough that quantum effects are important and
    therefore a purely “robotic” view of fruit flies will
    never work

  2. Couldn’t this just be a random (or pseudorandom) factor in the fly’s decision algorithm? What’s the big deal?

    And what does it have to do with ID? Even if flies and humans are strictly deterministic systems, the core arguments for ID (e.g. Behe’s irreducible complexity) would not be compromised in the slightest.

    With regard to predicting murder: I’d be very surprised if all murders are one day predictable — but what about individuals who are born with an innate, psychopathic predisposition to kill strangers? It would also be very surprising if a DNA pattern for that syndrome was never found.

  3. DarelRex writes,

    And what does it have to do with ID? Even if flies and humans are strictly deterministic systems, the core arguments for ID (e.g. Behe’s irreducible complexity) would not be compromised in the slightest.

    That’s an interesting point. There is nothing in the basic ID concepts of either IC or CSI that aren’t compatible with a completely deterministic universe, even if one supposes a non-deterministic and non-material origin for those IC/CSI features.

    Consider the common examples of a mousetrap, outboard motor, or car that are often used in ID arguments. In all cases, even though the things in question are created with intention, that quality of intention is not passed over into the things that are created: the mousetrap, motor, and car are all material deterministic objects without any ability to willfully intend anything on their own.

    Therefore, there is nothing in standard ID arguments that would lead one to conclude that human beings have free will.

    This is something worth thinking about.

  4. DarelRex writes,

    And what does it have to do with ID? Even if flies and humans are strictly deterministic systems, the core arguments for ID (e.g. Behe’s irreducible complexity) would not be compromised in the slightest.

    That’s an interesting point. There is nothing in the basic ID concepts of either IC or CSI that aren’t compatible with a completely deterministic universe, even if one supposes a non-deterministic and non-material origin for those IC/CSI features.

    Consider the common examples of a mousetrap, outboard motor, or car that are often used in ID arguments. In all cases, even though the things in question are created with intention, that quality of intention is not passed over into the things that are created: the mousetrap, motor, and car are all material deterministic objects without any ability to willfully intend anything on their own.

    Therefore, there is nothing in standard ID arguments that would lead one to conclude that human beings have free will.

    This is something worth thinking about.

    (P.S. This is from Jack Krebs, but my posts seem to be getting caught by the spam filter, as explained a few days ago, so I re-registered under another name to try to see if I could figure out what the problem is.)

  5. I’m sorry, Denyse, but this is not at all what the authors are saying. There is no fundamental characteristic to life that makes it indeterminate. Viruses are extremely deterministic organisms.

    What the authors are saying is that a deterministic system, the drosophila brain, is capable of chaotic output – but not completely random. But this is something that could easily be programmed into a machine. The logistic equation is an example of an extremely simple deterministic system with indeterminate output. If you’ve ever seen a fractal screensaver, you have seen essentially the behavior that the authors are describing in drosophila.

    As far as that quote of Roger Highfield (btw, quoting Bjorn Brembs) on free will… He is not saying that free will actually exists. He is saying that neuronal output (behavior) may not be predictable if the circuitry rests on a chaotic foundation.

    The really interesting part of this is that attractors may exist within the chaotic behavior – attractors that may be beneficial for the survival of the organism. I’m not really interested in debating whether this was designed or evolved.

  6. Jack Krebs:

    Therefore, there is nothing in standard ID arguments that would lead one to conclude that human beings have free will.

    Not directly. However, the question of free will addresses the nature of mind. If minds have true free will, even tiny insect ones, then purely Darwinistic/Deterministic/Physical Law mechanisms are insufficient to explain behavior.
    As it relates to ID, besides being evidence against Darwinistic determinism, the demonstration of true free will would indicate that the mind(s) behind the design of life is an independent actor on the natural universe.

  7. Along these lines, Fred on Hornets:

    http://www.fredoneverything.net/Hornets.shtml

  8. Shark’s virgin birth stuns scientists

    Off Topic but very interesting!

    Any solution to interesting OFF TOPIC topic suggestions yet??

  9. Birds do it. Bees do it. Now it seems that sharks are the latest, and largest, creatures that are able to reproduce without having sex, a finding that could have important implications for conserving these endangered fish.

    The article starts off saying BIRDS–warm blooded animals–can do this too?!

    Which birds?! I knew that newts, frogs, some insects (aphids) can do the partho-dance, but BIRDS?!

    Implications for conservation indeed. Wow.

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