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UD — An Insight Catalyst

One of the things I really enjoy about UD is that it is a catalyst for new insights.

I have blogged at UD on numerous occasions about computer programs and computer programming and their relationship to ID and Darwinian theory (for example, here and here). Doug’s post, Hidden Codes Within Codes, inspired some new insights.

Michael Denton has referred to biology as “wheels of complexity within wheels of complexity.” It seems clear at this point that we have only scratched the surface of life’s vastly sophisticated program.

Modern computers and computer programs mostly process information linearly, although parallel computing is possible with multiple CPUs and a lot of effort on the part of software engineers. It now appears that biological computing goes way beyond high-speed chemical information processing and massive computational parallelism. It seems increasingly obvious that bio-computing is not only massively parallel, but holographic; pieces in the process contain information in other pieces. This level of computational sophistication transcends anything that human engineers have even yet imagined.

Doug also comments on the unavoidable use of the “D” word. Isn’t it interesting that the language of design seems to be inescapable in discussions about biological processes and complexity? This is reminiscent of the unavoidable use of moral language when it comes to moral relativism. (One shouldn’t judge.)

Could it be that the unavoidable use of design and moral language is evidence of the fact that objective design and objective morality are real features of the real world, which we cannot escape, despite our best efforts?

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18 Responses to UD — An Insight Catalyst

  1. I think your point about the inevitable use of design language and moral language is an excellent one, and yes, I agree that it is definitely because design and morality are intrinsic to the creation, which came about from out of the ‘word’. I have often quoted Gandhi when he says that ‘God is the atheism of the atheist’ (cannot remember exact quote, which is pathetic, since I claimed to have often quoted it!) anyway, what he is trying to point out is similar to what you are saying: Truth is of God. All humans cannot HELP but orient towards truth. They may get confused about what is true or false, but they ALWAYS follow what they THINK is true: thus the atheist, although mistaken, is nevertheless a devotee of truth, which comes from God. It would be nearly impossible even to conceive of someone claiming “I am an atheist because I know it to be a false belief”. Truth, like morality and design, is intrinsic.

  2. Gil asks:
    “Could it be that the unavoidable use of design and moral language is evidence of the fact that objective design and objective morality are real features of the real world, which we cannot escape, despite our best efforts?”

    I don’t think so, and I’m frankly surprised at how often this argument is raised by ID advocates.

    Our language is replete with references to agents where none exist. Looking at the weather alone, we speak of furious Katrina lashing the Gulf Coast, or of the unforgiving sun punishing California this week. Smog chokes our cities. Who is angry? Who is withholding mercy and meting out punishment? Who is doing the choking? We understand that there is no mercurial weather god behind these events, but we quite naturally use teleological language to describe them anyway.

    References to biological design in our language don’t point to a conscious designer, any more than references to the anger of Katrina point to a powerful being with a grudge against New Orleans.

  3. > It now appears that biological computing goes way beyond high-speed
    > chemical information processing and massive computational parallelism.
    > It seems increasingly obvious that bio-computing is not only massively
    > parallel, but holographic; pieces in the process contain information
    > in other pieces. This level of computational sophistication transcends
    > anything that human engineers have even yet imagined.

    The cellular biochemical reaction networks are distributed self-programming
    computers with interesting fractal properties. I wrote recently several
    posts at talk.origins newsgroup on this topic (which were largely
    ‘margaritas ante porcos’ for that place). See especially the E. Sontag’s
    papers on ‘internal modeling’ of their environment by these networks.

    The idea was to formulate ID and neo-Darwinism at the algorithmic level
    of abstraction, where it is transparent that both ID and ND are legitimate
    and falsifiable scientific conjectures (about the properties of the
    evolution’s algorithm) and that ID is a much more coherent and elegant
    algorithm than the ND algorithm (which appears irrationally biased
    and inefficient, almost ridiculous, at this level of abstraction).

    The concluding post links to several other posts in that thread with
    more details on these topics (with references):

    == Thread: talk.origins Evidence for Big Leaps?
    http://groups.google.com/group.....1461c31421

    == Concluding post with Links:
    http://groups.google.com/group.....20c272c339

    == Intelligent Networks (how/what they do; languages as intelligent
    networks, social networks/organisms)

    http://groups.google.com/group.....a8de95db21

    == Larger pattern (overlapped networks, harmonization, monads)
    http://groups.google.com/group.....a907f10c22
    http://groups.google.com/group.....ff530cbe4e

    == Why did neurons evolve if biochemical networks are so smart?
    http://groups.google.com/group.....43ea9cc334

    == Consciousness (panpsychism, mind stuff & networks hierarchy)
    http://groups.google.com/group.....1dc097e17c

    == Abstracting from physical to algorithmic layer (chess program)
    http://groups.google.com/group.....6d409cefd2
    http://groups.google.com/group.....1dc097e17c

    == Algorithms vs laws (abstracting boundary conditions, Maxwell daemon)
    http://groups.google.com/group.....8c5e8f1861

    == Teleology is a valid principle for natural laws (physics examples)
    http://groups.google.com/group.....5c50183c02
    http://groups.google.com/group.....fdbfff5b01
    http://groups.google.com/group.....a7fccec7f5

    == Algorithmic form of ID hypothesis (see 2nd, longer formulation)
    http://groups.google.com/group.....d13b73d804

    == Number game: Is player guessing randomly or intelligently?
    http://groups.google.com/group.....1c5907d0aa

    == Did student cheat on the test?
    http://groups.google.com/group.....e5da115f5f

    == REFERENCES

    — Complexity science references

    Regarding the “Complexity Science” references, the center which
    started this advance in late 1980s was the Santa Fe Institute,
    still the Mecca for this research.

    SFI Bulletin (magazine for general readers):
    http://www.santafe.edu/researc.....lletin.php

    SFI preprints (for technical readers):
    http://www.santafe.edu/researc.....papers.php

    SFI Computational mechanics (how does nature compute):
    http://www.santafe.edu/projects/CompMech/

    Tommaso Toffoli (modeling natural laws, from physics to biological
    evolution, as a distributed computer, networks, cellular automata)
    http://pm1.bu.edu/~tt/publ.html

    There are also several sections on arXiv with papers on
    ‘complexity science’, ‘adaptable networks’, ‘self-organizing systems’:

    Computer Science:
    http://arxiv.org/list/cs/new

    Quantitative Biology
    http://arxiv.org/list/q-bio/new

    Nonlinear Sciences
    http://arxiv.org/list/nlin/new

    complexity science
    http://arxiv.org/find/grp_q-bi.....complexity

    adaptable networks
    http://arxiv.org/find/grp_q-bi.....adaptive+n

    – Few useful links:

    Very readable recent survey of results and perspective,
    with well selected references:

    Francis Heylighen, Paul Cilliers, Carlos Gershenson
    “Complexity and Philosophy”
    http://arxiv.org/abs/cs.CC/0604072

    Gershenson’s page on self-organizing systems:
    http://homepages.vub.ac.be/~cgershen/sos/

    InterJournal (complexity science online journal)
    http://interjournal.org/

    Eduardo Sontag (decompiling algorithms of biochemcial networks,
    how to find their ‘internal models’)
    http://www.math.rutgers.edu/~sontag/papers.html

    See especially his paper: “Adaptation and regulation with signal
    detection implies internal model”
    http://www.math.rutgers.edu/~s.....-scl03.pdf

    Albert-László Barabási (static properties, structure, statistics,
    identification of networks many of natural & social systems)
    http://www.nd.edu/~alb/

    Complexity & anticipatory systems (discussion):
    http://www.vcu.edu/complex/

    Anticipatory systems (Robert Rosen’s work, theory & formalism of
    general anticipatory systems; systems that model other systems)
    http://www.people.vcu.edu/~mik.....RSPC2.html
    http://www.anticipation.info/l.....undation=1

    Liane Gabora (self-organizing systems, evolution, consciousness problem)
    http://www.vub.ac.be/CLEA/liane/Publications.htm

    == Mind-stuff (how does consciousness fit in?)

    Philosophical panpsychism
    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/panpsychism/

    My variant sketch (a modernized variant of Lebniz monads):
    http://groups.google.com/group.....1dc097e17c

    Online papers on consciousness
    http://consc.net/online.html

    David Chalmers (‘the hard problem of consciousness’):
    http://consc.net/chalmers/

    Gregg Rosenberg (‘A place for consiousness’)
    http://www.ai.uga.edu/~ghrosenb/book.html

    Journal of Consciousness Studies
    http://www.imprint.co.uk/jcs.html#fulltext

  4. Tina:

    Consider Hume’s conception on objectiveness and morality–if we see someone get killed where in the act do we see self defense, or murder. We know it a postiori, after the fact. As in experiencing causes. Voltaire argued “moral understanding is necessarily connected to metaphysical understanding”, Hume’s after the fact judgement. While the agnostic believes that both propositions ‘God exists’ and ‘God does not exist’ cannot be proved, the athiest says the proposition ‘God exists’ is not true. IDism present difficulties for both athiest and agnostic–The genetic results from thought recorded on matter. Immaterial intelligence imposed on matter which when translated into specific amino acid chains, and protiens to produce organisms, is meaning. Language is something other than itself–like the STOP sign or paycheck, which is but paper and ink. The food we put on the table is the meaning.

  5. 5
    John A. Davison

    “Then there are the fanatical atheists whose intolerance is the same as that of the religious fanatics and it stems from the same source…They are creatures who can’t hear the music of the spheres.”
    Albert Einstein

    “Of all the senseless babble I have ever had occasion to read, the demonstrations of these philosophers who undertake to tell us all about the nature of God would be the worst, if they were not surpassed by the still greater absurdities of the philosophers who try to prove that there is no God.”
    Thomas Henry Huxley

    “A past evolution is undeniable, a present evolution undemonstrable.”
    John A. Davisno

  6. “Our language is replete with references to agents where none exist. Looking at the weather alone, we speak of furious Katrina lashing the Gulf Coast, or of the unforgiving sun punishing California this week. Smog chokes our cities. Who is angry? Who is withholding mercy and meting out punishment? Who is doing the choking? We understand that there is no mercurial weather god behind these events, but we quite naturally use teleological language to describe them anyway.

    References to biological design in our language don’t point to a conscious designer, any more than references to the anger of Katrina point to a powerful being with a grudge against New Orleans.”

    We use personification to describe weather because it makes the language more interesting and it allows us to describe meteorological phenomena more vividly. Is that what scientists are doing when they use design terminology, or is it something else, as Gil suggests?

  7. russ asks:
    “We use personification to describe weather because it makes the language more interesting and it allows us to describe meteorological phenomena more vividly. Is that what scientists are doing when they use design terminology, or is it something else, as Gil suggests?”

    It is the former. Scientists too often describe a biological feature in the framework of answering the teleological question “What is it good for?” The more precise description would be to answer the mechanistic question “How did it come to be this way?” However, this impreciseness is understandable for the reason mentioned above: “because it makes the language more interesting” and because it makes it more understandable for the layperson.

  8. I think the big difference between the “weather god” examples and what is being discussed here is that within the framework of the modern Darwinian synthesis, everything is explicitly to be understood as non-teleological; pointless. by definition. So, even within that framework, which the investigator strives to uphold, he simply cannot HELP himself and constantly slips into the use of teleological language. This is different from the poetical use of language to describe natural phenomena. By the way, how do we know there is no weather god?:)

  9. What you are trying to say: they really don’t believe what they consciously believe in their heart of hearts.

  10. geoffrobinson: if you were asking me (tinabrewer) then I would say that no, they really believe it. Nevertheless, their created nature posesses certain intrinsic traits which even their perversely directed free will cannot escape: an innate knowledge, encoded in language, of purpose, teleology, morality. Thus, even in our distortions, we must submit to the greater truth by which we are, willingly or unwillingly, governed.

    If you weren’t asking me, sorry and ignore this answer!

  11. Tina is precisely correct in comment #8, and this was the point I was trying to make. Design in biological systems leaps out at us and cries for recognition, whether we like it or not, and even when we try to suppress it. This is not the case with the weather, which speaks of unintelligent natural and stochastic processes, even if we might like to anthropomorphize it for literary purposes.

    Perhaps I should have been more explicit in my analogy between design language and moral language. A moral relativist might say something like: “There are no absolute standards of morality. Morality is all relative, so you should be tolerant of ethical claims with which you disagree and not judge others.” Of course, the latter statement is an absolute moral truth claim (be tolerant and don’t judge), so the entire thesis becomes self-refuting. Moral language seems to be unavoidable and built into the nature of things, whether we like it or not, and even when we try to suppress it.

    On the subject of my first subject — ongoing discoveries of ever-greater complexity and sophistication in biological processes and codes: If biology really is the product of unintelligent, undirected, goalless, materialistic forces like random mutation and natural selection, we should discover increasing evidence that these forces really are capable of accounting for what we find. On the other hand, as we discover ever-increasing complexity and sophistication in living systems, these materialistic hypotheses will necessarily fade into the background, and design will become a more compelling explanation.

  12. To #2 zapatero:

    > Our language is replete with references to agents where none exist.
    > Looking at the weather alone, we speak of furious Katrina lashing
    > the Gulf Coast, or of the unforgiving sun punishing California this
    > week. Smog chokes our cities. Who is angry? Who is withholding mercy
    > and meting out punishment? Who is doing the choking?

    You’re confusing above the informal everyday language
    use of metaphors (e.g. by some excited airhead on CNN)
    with terms used in scientific languages. The “design”
    terminology being discussed here is the one used in
    _scientifc papers_ on cellular biochemistry & biology.

    > We understand that there is no mercurial weather god behind these
    > events, but we quite naturally use teleological language to describe
    > them anyway.

    You’re misinformed on the state of teleological modeling in science.
    Teleological language (or formalism) is a perfectly valid, scientific
    method of modeling natural phenomena. See links in post #3,
    especially the posts:

    == Teleology is a valid principle for natural laws (physics examples)

    http://groups.google.com/group.....5c50183c02
    http://groups.google.com/group.....fdbfff5b01
    http://groups.google.com/group.....a7fccec7f5

    For example, teleological models are _fully equivalent_ to causal
    models in physics, the fundation of natural science. Similarly,
    at the higher layers (sciences on animal & human behaviors,
    economy, social sciences) teleology is the dominant modeling
    scheme.

    It is only in the intermediate layer of evolutionary biology
    that a peculiar neo-Darwinian ideological dogma (militant
    atheism) has declared the teleological modeling a taboo.

    That freak exception in the middle of the hierarchy of sciences
    is a _transient_ distortion of scientific method by a small,
    militantly atheistic, mutual back patting society of zealous
    loudmouths, not a law of nature as you seem to imagine.
    Teleology is a perfectly good and very useful scientific
    method everywhere else.

    In fact, cellular biochemical networks use algorithms which
    are _mathematically of the same type_ (modeling of their
    environment and self, playing these internal models forward
    in model-time, anticipating their environment, strategizing on
    the best responses by self-actor…) as those used by human
    or animal brains, immune systems, social networks,… etc.

    == Intelligent Networks (how/what they do; languages as intelligent
    networks, social networks/organisms)

    http://groups.google.com/group.....a8de95db21

    Eduardo Sontag (decompiling algorithms of biochemcial networks,
    how to find their ‘internal models’)
    http://www.math.rutgers.edu/~sontag/papers.html

    See especially his paper: “Adaptation and regulation with signal
    detection implies internal model”
    http://www.math.rutgers.edu/~s.....-scl03.pdf

  13. “Our language is replete with references to agents where none exist. Looking at the weather alone, we speak of furious Katrina lashing the Gulf Coast,…” – Zapatero

    But we don’t say “Katrina solved the difficult problem of getting thousands to flee the state of Louisiana, with an ingenious and carefully-targeted wind and water tranfering mechanism.”

  14. Folks,

    I picked weather-related examples simply because they popped into my head first (I live in California, where we’ve had three straight weeks of brutally high temperatures). But the habit of using agent-related language to describe agentless phenomena extends well beyond the weather to every area of life, and it is by no means restricted to cases in which we want the language to be poetic or particularly vivid.

    Look at these three examples:

    1. My car didn’t want to start this morning.
    2. Ferns like the shade.
    3. The lock recognized the combination.

    Nothing vivid or poetic about those sentences, yet each ascribes agency in an agentless situation.

    Am I now to be accused by ID proponents of secretly believing that cars, ferns and locks have active mental and emotional lives, simply because it is natural to use agent-centric language in describing their behavior?

  15. Paraphrasing Scott Minnich in “Unlocking the Mystery of Life”:

    “It isn’t by convience that we call them molecular machines- that is what they are.”

  16. “Look at these three examples:

    1. My car didn’t want to start this morning.
    2. Ferns like the shade.
    3. The lock recognized the combination.

    Nothing vivid or poetic about those sentences, yet each ascribes agency in an agentless situation.

    Am I now to be accused by ID proponents of secretly believing that cars, ferns and locks have active mental and emotional lives, simply because it is natural to use agent-centric language in describing their behavior?

    Comment by zapatero — July 27, 2006 @ 3:27 am”

    I think you misunderstood my point, or I phrased it badly. No I am not accusing you of “secretly believing that cars start themselves.”

    But you wouldn’t use the phrase in #1 if it was your goal to dispell a widespread, ancient, and deeply-held belief that cars choose to start themselves.

    Nor would you say “Ferns like the shade” if you were trying to persuade fern-worshipers that ferns have no thoughts, desires, or consciousness.

    And again, you wouldn’t say “the lock liked the combination”, if you lived in a community of people who believed–against your constant protestations–that locks don’t think, like or “do” anything.

    But that’s what Darwinists do. It may not be sinister or even conscious. But I think it does make Darwinian stories easier to accept, when they’re couched in the language of design/agency/creation.

  17. Russ,

    Don’t forget that the point of Gil’s post was that the use of “design language” implies that the design is real, not apparent. He wrote:

    “Could it be that the unavoidable use of design and moral language is evidence of the fact that objective design and objective morality are real features of the real world, which we cannot escape, despite our best efforts?”

    My weather, car, fern and lock examples show that the use of agent-centric language, though perfectly natural and commonplace, does not demonstrate that a real agent is being described. Similarly, “design language” does not demonstrate the existence of a designer.

    You are now raising an entirely different point, which is to ask whether Darwinians could communicate the theory more effectively by avoiding teleological language. That’s a fair question.

    I believe the answer is no, for a couple of reasons:

    1. Avoiding teleological language renders some descriptions clunky. Consider how you would describe stick insect camouflage, first using teleological language and then avoiding it:

    “Stick insects are designed to resemble twigs, so that they blend in with their backgrounds and are less visible to predators.”

    “Among ancestral populations of modern stick insects, some individuals acquired mutations which made them slightly less conspicuous against the background of twigs compared to others in the population. Because they were less visible to predators, more of these individual survived, and they came to dominate the population. More mutations arose. The ones which made their owners more visible to predators disappeared from the population, because predators tended to weed more of their owners out of the population versus the “normal” individuals. The rare mutations which decreased the visibility of their owners were preserved by the process described above. Over many generations, this weeding-out process led to an entire population of insects possessing an uncanny resemblance to the twigs in their environment.”

    Both expository styles are appropriate in the right context. But to insist that the second style be used exclusively every time an adaptation is described seems unreasonable to me, and likely to drive the reader away.

    2. The core of Darwinian theory is that you don’t need a conscious, intelligent designer in order to get something that looks like design. This is counterintuitive to almost everyone until they have heard or read a good explanation of how natural selection actually works. By continuing to refer to design, Darwinians emphasize that the concepts of ‘design’ and ‘designer’ are not inextricably linked.

  18. Zapatero:
    2. The core of Darwinian theory is that you don’t need a conscious, intelligent designer in order to get something that looks like design.

    When that core can be empirically tested please let us know.

    As for your stick insect dialog- nice story, but again is there ANY empirical data to support it? (that random mutations can do such a thing)

    BTW Gil isn’t implying anything. He is asking a question.

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