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New Article on Specification

Specification: The Pattern That Signifies Intelligence
By William A. Dembski

ABSTRACT: Specification denotes the type of pattern that highly improbable
events must exhibit before one is entitled to attribute them to intelligence. This
paper analyzes the concept of specification and shows how it applies to design
detection (i.e., the detection of intelligence on the basis of circumstantial
evidence). Always in the background throughout this discussion is the
fundamental question of Intelligent Design (ID): Can objects, even if nothing is
known about how they arose, exhibit features that reliably signal the action of an
intelligent cause? This paper reviews, clarifies, and extends previous work on
specification in my books The Design Inference and No Free Lunch.

For the article, go here.

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9 Responses to New Article on Specification

  1. I am somewhat confused. You have done a good job here of arguing that it is possible to rule out chance causes of phenonema. But lack of chance does not imply design. The atoms in a crystalline solid are not randomly organized. Yet it is not necessary to invoke design to explain their organization. Ruling out chance just tells one that something nonrandom is happening. I thought that in the theory of evolution just such a element was present: natural selection is a nonrandom process…

    I seem to be missing something. Your efforts here seem to be unrelated to disproving evolution or proving design.

  2. Hi Kip. Chance as I’m using it refers to any stochastic process. This includes deterministic processes like crystal formation — here the probabilities all collapse to zero and one. It also includes the combination of random variation and natural selection. If you look closely at my paper, you’ll see that chance as I’m using it is very broad and certainly doesn’t just mean random sampling with respect to a uniform probability distribution.

  3. The past year or so, I have been researching ideas in a psychology called “Ecological Psychology.” It’s founder, James J. Gibson (you probably have heard of him since you have read Dretske and he cites him numerous times) gives a new account of information. Information is not based on possibilities of [i]concepts[/i], which, as you say in [i]No Free Lunch[/i], information [at it's source] is irreducibly conceptual and thus presupposes intelligent agency (137). What Gibson tried to do was to show that information is (on the ontological scale) already specfied. The example that you give on pg. 11 in [i]NFL[/i] for Caesar cipher is already specified. As Merleau-Ponty has shown in [i]Phenomenology of Perception[/i], where “Figure 1 is not recalled [i]by[/i] Figure 2, or rather it is so recalled only if one has first seen in Figure 2 ‘a possible Figure 1′. which amounts to saying that the actual resemblance does not relieve us of the necessity of asking how it is first made possible by the present organization of Figure 2″ (22).

    In other words, the pattern is already specified. The specification does not come afterwards as you claim. This is what Gibson shows by his idea of affordances. An affordance is what an object means and does not need to be imposed on by an “mind”. Meaning is developed through interaction, not by cognitive activities (computational or, by your method, interpreting our body, which still involves a dualism, even though you deny this). This does not imply a reduction to physiological interpretations. Rather, it redefines what we mean by the natural world and the mental realm. We have not given enough credit to the world and too much to the mind. You state that cognitive science “do not rest their hopes with neuroscience” (Are We Spiritual Machines, 5), which is untrue. Secondly, all of neuroscience does not fall into the category of materialism (see Freeman 1999; http://sulcus.berkeley.edu/Fre.....F8/99.html in Section 12).

    In addition, ID is not the only program that denies natural selection at the fundamental level. Ecological Psychologists and others promote the idea of Population of One, where the Earth is seen as a single global entity and from this population of one life arises with not struggle of the fittest. Rod Swenson and others also criticize Dawkins and Dennett that try to show that algorithms (which resemble little programs) can account for life. See papers on Swenson here: https://notes.utk.edu/bio/greenberg.nsf/0/fd05e5c4c4f2ef6d85256e550066b097?OpenDocument , http://www.rodswenson.com/References.html , http://www.rodswenson.com/swenson.html , http://www.spontaneousorder.ne.....Cweb1.html , and here is a yahoo search of him for more: http://search.yahoo.com/search.....8;ei=UTF-8

    Instead, information should not be considered as generating life, but information is what excludes things to occur. For example, a wall impedes a ball from passing through it, thus excludes certain pathways. However, take away the wall, the pathway opportunities increase. To talk about information as chance, probabilities, etc. is irrelevant since information is not based on probabilities but rather depends the organisms ability to pick up relevant information. We have to construct a theory at the level of the organism to understand how it acts, not by abstract ideas. Thus, the organism’s ability to pick-up information that another animal is a predator is relevant, our calculations of the probability that this was done by chance does not tell us anything about [i]how[/i]this occurred.

    All in all, you seem to neglect most of cotemporary ideas in these fields. As I said above cognitive science is moving away from a dualism of materialism and mentalism. AI is also going away from this trend (see Andy Clark’s [i]Being There[/i] and any of R.D. Beer’s papers here: http://vorlon.cwru.edu/~beer/ . There are numerous others as well. You have only researched a small amount of information (at least you only written on a small amount of information out there). What you have criticized in your papers and books is a dying paradigm. The newer theories of what intelligence is do not result in materialistic accounts and, in addition, do not result in ID. By the way, defining intelligence based on its etymology (choosing between) has no theoretical relevance since present data shows this to be false, and it does not matter what our ancesters thought. Etymology only has relevance in understanding what our ancestors actually meant, instead of pushing our connotations onto their terms.


    [Quite a laundry list here. Briefly, specifications always depend on background knowledge, so there is path dependence with previous knowledge of specifications, and thus specifications don't arise out of nothing. That said, many specifications are not explicitly identified prior to their use in design inferences. That was my only point, and it distinguishes specifications from prespecifications. As for your redefinitions of information, I detect a certain circularity: "information ... depends the organisms ability to pick up relevant information." I'm perfectly happy with semantic and non-probability based accounts of information. The problem is that they tend to be subjective and not relevant for assessing the evolvability of biological systems under various material mechanisms. Yes, I'm looking at a rather narrow problem. But it seems to me the approach to information that I'm adopting gets at the core issues in biology. As for ecological psychology, and its resolution of dualism, go for it. But I think you would agree that it has hardly won the day and has its work cut out. --WmAD]

  4. First, it isn’t my redefinition of information, but Gibson’s. Secondly, as I said in the original comment, his idea is not based on any subjective accounts (that is what he was attacking).

    Information specifies BOTH the environment AND the organism. However, as you define specifications to call specification “background knowledge” is an epistemological question, not an ontological one, and becomes subjective. As Gibson has found, invariants are both formless and timeless; that is, information pick up does not depend on the strict material stimuli and does not depend on background knowledge at all. Instead, in respect to timeless, things have a family resemblance. The problem with epistemological accounts to information is that it presupposes an intelligence. And it is here that I have a problem. If we can show that intelligence does not require a mentalism without adopting a physiological account of action, then intelligence is not generating CSI as you describe it.

    The reason for the last statement above is due to the rejection that information “arises out of nothing”. Information does not arise anywhere. This is where the example of “a ball bouncing against a wall and then removing the wall” comes into play. Different information occurs when constraints are removed. This is where I think you may misunderstand what emergent theories mean (at least in the psychological meaning of the theory). Emergence occurs when constrainsts are removed and thus, BOTH entities are responsible for the new information. Neither create the information. Some may describe the emergence due to the idea of thermodynamic laws occur and information gets excluded and allows other information to flow freely. There is a very good article about this by Shaw and Turvey (1999) in “Reclaiming Cognition” by Freeman and Nunez entitled “Ecological Foundations of Cognition: II”. In it, they state, “Modern physics is not about finding the causes that make something’s existence lawfully necessary. It is about the exclusion or censorship of those things not allowed. A in the case of change, no positive cause for it is required of even possible. For one thing to exist rather than another, it needs to be most compatible to become actualized” (116).

    Lastly, information in ecological psychology isn’t a semantic one if you mean semantic as how language theorists mean it. The meaning of an object, say a baseball bat, isn’t the definition of a baseball bat. Instead, in its most abstract notion, a-graspable-thing. Hence, a stick, a cup, a ball, are all specified the same.

    To conclude, Gibson’s idea of information studies the appropriate level, how organisms interact with the information (including their bodily changes). Ecological Psychology has been slowly moving in the mainstream. The enactive approach, founded by Francisco Varela (and co-founder in Autopoiesis in biology) has pushed it forward. Gibson’s ideas are taking over AI research as well. So, no, I do not agree that it has “hardly won.” They have won and now they are just building up programs in universities.


  5. Universal Probability Bounds

    I’d like to propose the introduction of slightly different but related probability bounds – perhaps we could call them biochemical, biological, thermodynamic and chemical probability bounds.

  6. I dunno how to do the “trackback” thing yet. Here’s a link to an article on my new blog that I wanted to trackback to this post. ID and Elvis

    “In Dover, Pennsylvania the legality of whether the local school board may use textbooks in public schools that present evidence, both for and against the competing theories of evolution and intelligent design (ID), is being tested in a non-jury trial…

    “William Demski, a scientist and leading proponent of ID, has … managed to raise enough ruckus to gain attention from the very top of the neo-darwinist heap…”

  7. ID and Elvis

    The Intelligent Design movement is making waves in  Dover, Pennsylvania, in non-jury civil trial over the legality of using textbooks in public schools that present evidence against the theory of evolution. The judge is expected to rule in late th…

  8. Good showing, Dr Dembski! Congratulations!
    I hope to watch it soon.

  9. Watch the whole thing, I mean. I was only able to see parts this morning.

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