ID Foundations, 13: Of bird necks and beaks, robots, micro-level black swan events, inductive turkeys & the design inference, the vNSR and OOL (with hints on economic transformation)
|December 24, 2011||Posted by kairosfocus under Cybernetics and Mechatronics, ID Foundations, Irreducible Complexity|
Over the past few days, I have been reflecting a bit on carrying design theory-relevant thought onwards to issues tied to education and economic transformation.
In so doing, I found myself looking at a micro-level, personal black swan event, as I watched student robots picking and placing little plastic widgets much like . . . like . . . a chicken, or a duck.
Or, a swan.
Wait a minute: a swan’s long neck, beak and head form . . . a robot arm manipulator (with built-in sensor turret) on a turtle robot body capable of walking, swimming and flying:
(Pardon the Canada Goose stand-in for a swan.)
So, maybe, birds do have “arms” after all. They didn’t just sacrifice forelimbs as arms to get wings, they used their heads as arms.
Thinking back, h’mm: how do birds build nests again?
SHOULD have been obvious!
But, it wasn’t; there was an “aha!” moment. And, looking back, we could see the signs that were there all along but missed.
Wiki’s article on Black Swan theory gives a useful context for that, when it clips Taleb in the NYT:
What we call here a Black Swan (and capitalize it) is an event with the following three attributes. First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme impact. Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable.
I stop and summarize the triplet: rarity, extreme impact, and retrospective (though not prospective) predictability. A small number of Black Swans explains almost everything in our world, from the success of ideas and religions, to the dynamics of historical events, to elements of our own personal lives.
In short, we can come to a threshold where we are surprised by something we should have spotted but didn’t, and the experience can be transformative for good or ill:
There was a certain turkey who showed up for breakfast 9 am sharp every morning, and was fed well. An inductivist, he inferred an exception-less law of nature that explained all his observations most satisfactorily, and with abundant and enjoyable predictive power.He had great confidence in his empirically reliable, well-tested theory.
No need to listen to that silly old “fundy” “supernaturalist” Owl who was saying there was more to the story than meets the eye!
Then, one fine day, the date was December 24th . . .
This set me to thinking about paradigms in science and the issue of inference to design. For instance, we may capture this in a flowchart:
It can be reduced to an algebraic expression, too.
a: once we have objective reason to assign the specificity variable (S) to 1,
b: can measure the information content I on a reasonable scale in bits, and
c: are beyond the 500 bit or 1,000 bit thresholds (for our solar system or the observed cosmos)
d: we can with confidence — of course within the provisionality limitations of all inductive knowledge claims — infer that
e: complex, specified information (especially where this is functionally specified) is best explained by choice contingency, i.e. design, if the Chi value is at least 1:
Chi_500 = I*S – 500, bits beyond the solar system threshold
Chi_1000 = I*S – 1000, bits beyond he observed cosmos threshold
Why is it that so many find it ever so hard to acknowledge what seems so obvious and well-warranted (as in, the whole Internet and world of technology stand in support as test-instances where we can directly cross-check)?
Well . . . since so many want to angrily mock and dismiss the classic Lewontin clip on materialist a priorism in science and expectations/impositions that can diverge from wider reality, let’s use a current one from Mahner, instead:
. . . metaphysical naturalism is a constitutive ontological principle of science in that the general empirical methods of science, such as observation, measurement and experiment, and thus the very production of empirical evidence, presuppose a no-supernature principle . . . .
Metaphysical or ontological naturalism (henceforth: ON) [“roughly” and “simply”] is the view that all that exists is our lawful spatiotemporal world. Its negation is of course supernaturalism: the view that our lawful spatiotemporal world is not all that exists because there is another non-spatiotemporal world transcending the natural one, whose inhabitants—usually considered to be intentional beings—are not subject to natural laws . . . .
Both scientists and science educators keep being challenged by creationists of all shades, who try hard to reintroduce supernaturalist explanations into biology and into all the areas of science that concern the origin of the world in general and of human beings in particular. A major aspect of this debate is the role of ON in science . . . .
ON is not part of a deductive argument in the sense that if we collected all the statements or theories of science and used them as premises, then ON would logically follow. After all, scientific theories do not explicitly talk about anything metaphysical such as the presence or absence of supernatural entities: they simply refer to natural entities and processes only. Therefore, ON rather is a tacit metaphysical supposition of science, an ontological postulate. It is part of a metascientific framework or, if preferred, of the metaparadigm of science that guides the construction and evaluation of theories, and that helps to explain why science works and succeeds in studying and explaining the world. [“The role of Metaphysical Naturalism in Science,” Science and Education Journal, 2011; published by Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011]
A priori worldview commitments like that are notorious roots of ideological blindness.
Back to the birds . . .
Let’s add something to the imaginary bird robot, by way of a design exercise towards industrial transformation and solar system colonialisation. In addition to its functions that would make it useful, let us make it into a von Neumann self-replicator (vNSR):
As Ralph Merkle outlined, such a vNSR is potentially quite useful:
[T]he costs involved in the exploration of the galaxy [or solar system] using self replicating probes would be almost exclusively the design and initial manufacturing costs. Subsequent manufacturing costs would then drop dramatically . . . . A device able to make copies of itself but unable to make anything else would not be very valuable. Von Neumann’s proposals centered around the combination of a Universal Constructor, which could make anything it was directed to make, and a Universal Computer, which could compute anything it was directed to compute. This combination provides immense value, for it can be re- programmed to make any one of a wide range of things . . . [[Self Replicating Systems and Molecular Manufacturing, Xerox PARC, 1992. (Emphases added.)]
How can that be done?
A kinematic vNSR requires:
Now, a common attempted rebuttal or dismissal to such reasoning is to claim that spontaneous, natural chance variation [[e.g. through mutations] and natural selection work together to create new functional biological information, so that chance alone does not have to do it all in one step. In Dawkins’ terms, there is an easy, step- by- step path up the back slope of “Mt Improbable.” But, this is an error, as quite plainly the claimed source of novel biological information is the variation, not the selection. For, as Darwin himself pointed out in the introduction to Origin, “any being, if it vary however slightly in any manner profitable to itself . . . will have a better chance of surviving, and thus [[will] be naturally selected.”
(This, for the excellent reason that such specifically functional organisation is far too isolated in the space of possible configurations to be reasonably expected to happen by chance and/or blind, undirected forces on the scope of our observed cosmos. [[And, to then resort to a proposed quasi-infinite array of “universes” is to jump to a speculation without observational evidence, i.e. philosophy not science. Worse, even such a speculation raises the question of the functional specificity and organisation of the universe-making bread factory, and the point that even in that case, the implication that our particular sub cosmos is locally finetuned would still be just as significant . . .] )
Obviously, the first test case is origin of cell-based life, which requires/uses such a vNSR mechanism, with all the irreducible complexity it entails. Such life is also critically dependent on the manufacture of proteins, which again uses a digital coded information mechanism. And, with the implication that until this is in place, we have no basis for the reproduction that is the first part of the proposed Darwinian type mechanisms for macro-evolution.
This, DV, we will follow up at a later date.
So, before we close off, let us look a little at the potential for industrial and economic transformation implicit in the ideas we have been discussing.
Let us note how Merkle, in suggesting that vNSR’s would be able to transform exploration or colonialisation of the galaxy (or more realistically the solar system), noted on how once the process begins, we have an industrial base that sustains itself once we can feed in raw materials and components as required.
This, we see all around us in the world of life.
Now, mix in Marcin Jakubowski’s Global Village Construction Set, as he highlighted in a TED talk:
So, if we do identify appropriate digital specifications and sources of energy, raw materials and components, we can create a new industrial ecosystem, one that would be modular and of essentially village or small town scale.
Now, bring to bear our vNSR bird bots, duly loaded with the specifications.
Immediately, we see a potential catalytical technology that would erase the digital, technological and have/have not divides.
And in so thinking, we see as well how intelligently directed origin of an ecosystem, and innovations in it, through coded, digitally stored, functionally specific, complex information, are in principle feasible. Indeed, desirable, to move beyond the world of haves and have nots.
That is, we have excellent reason to see that an ecology of self-replicating systems that can diversify across time is an eminently plausible and reasonably achievable project for this century ahead.
But, there is a sting in the tail.
For, if that is feasible, why could not a more advanced technical base do the same with carbon chemistry, aqueous medium nanotechnology?
In short, why — apart from ideological a priori materialism — is it such a no-no to even conceive that the world of life we see and are a part of could have been shaped by designers applying advanced nanotechnology?
And, given that simply thinking about such design approaches opens up serious alternatives for science, technology, economy, and civilisation, why is it so often so harshly asserted that design thinkers are inevitably, inescapably anti-science, and anti-progress?
Let us think and let us discuss, over some of that Inductive Turkey. END