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Archive for September, 2008

Does reductionist science miss the bigger pattern (Part 2)?

Posted by desicontrarian on September 20, 2008

As I was saying, an article advocating the truth of Darwinian evolution caught my eye. It is a software-driven simulation experiment by Dave Thomas, published at Panda’s Thumb. He wrote a genetic algorithm where the general problem is described, but the target solution is not precisely specified or designed. The problem is called  “Steiners’s Problem”. The algorithm evolves several solutions to the problem, and gradually comes up with The Best Fit solution to the problem. This is called Steiner’s Solution.  Along the way, the algorithm also generates sub-optimal solutions, dubbed by  Dave Thomas as MacGyver Solutions.   MacGyver is an American TV serial from the 80s where the hero always gets people out of a jam by devising gadgets out of every-day household articles like pins, screws, coat hangers etc. Its not the best solution, but it does the job.

Of course, the author and his friends were very happy. See, they had proved that evolution can happen without specifying a precise target! The discussion in general was about the techniques used in the simulation, the rebuttals that it provided to ID proponents etc. Then there was a comment thread in the discussion which went as follows.

Dilettante

2 statements in your thesis are :

1. Simply given the environment “shorter is better, connectivity critical,” a suite of digital organisms with solutions comparable to formal Steiner systems were evolved

2. In my algorithm, the Fitness Test is easy to apply: calculate the length of active segments. Shorter connected systems are more “fit.”

Query : Was there a purposeful agency which created the environment “shorter is better, connectivity critical?”. Who set the fuzzy “fitness” criteria?

 

For a while, there are no responses. Then, somebody stirs 🙂

 

steve s | July 7, 2006 12:30 PM

This is just a reminder that there is a creationist troll going unanswered:

Posted by Dilettante on July 7, 2006 02:07 AM (e) 

2 statements in your thesis are :

…..

Considering that he’s setting up for the dumbest possible objection to an evolutionary simulation, my amusement has an interest in seeing him engaged.

 

  That provokes a knowledgeable militant.

 

RBH | July 7, 2006 12:49 PM

Dilettante asked

Query : Was there a purposeful agency which created the environment “shorter is better, connectivity critical?”. Who set the fuzzy “fitness” criteria?

The experimenter did so in setting up experimental conditions to study the behavior of the system. It’s sort of like an experimenter in a bacteriology lab sets out Petri dishes (themselves intelligently designed) and varies a nutrient medium to ascertain the effects of the variation on the growth of E. coli colonies. Gee. Experiments are intelligently designed. What a breakthrough!

And what was learned in this particular research? Why, that given a fitness function that selectively rewards (via differential probability of reproduction) shorter paths, an array of irreducibly complex outcomes evolve. What does that tell us? It tells us that good old random mutations and selection can produce astonishing results, results that give the lie to ID creationsts’ blathering about the inability of evolution to produce novel complex structures without specifying a target state but merely manipulating local fitness calculations according to a simple figure of merit. And guess what ‘natural’ environments do, environments that vary in any number of physical dimensions. Why, they set implicit fitness criteria for survival and reproduction in subranges of those physical variables (known as “niches”) such that differentail reproduction as a function of relative adaptation to the niches produces populations of novel ‘solutions’ to the demands of the environments. Gosh. Evolution works just like that research platform. Amazing. The difference is that in the one it’s easier to manipulate selective environments (fitness functions) to study the process.

Now, if Dilettante wants to argue that the selective environment in nature was itself designed, let him go argue with the physicists and chemists and geologists, and leave biologists the hell alone.

Now, the arm-wrestling starts!

 

Dilettante | July 10, 2006 1:02 PM

RBH answered me on July 7, 2006 12:49 PM:

“Why, they set implicit fitness criteria for survival and reproduction in subranges of those physical variables (known as “niches”) such that differentail reproduction as a function of relative adaptation to the niches produces populations of novel ‘solutions’ to the demands of the environments”

So, the “environments” set up “demands”. They set up implicit criteria for survival. Does it not mean they have goals? The method of doing it may be mutations, random selections, elimination and favouring of certain characteristics. In other words, evolution. But that is just process, a trial-and-error method. But is there not a purpose behind evolution itself?

I think G.B. Shaw writes about the emergence of organization from chaos in one of his plays. The evolution of the eye for the purpose of seeing, ear for the purpose of hearing etc. Sometimes outsiders have more imagination than insiders.

 

Dilettante | July 10, 2006 3:38 PM

RBH on July 7, 2006 12:49 PM

“The experimenter did so in setting up experimental conditions to study the behavior of the system. It’s sort of like an experimenter in a bcateriology lab sets out Petri dishes (themselves intelligently designed) and varies a nutrient medium to ascertain the effects of the variation on the growth of E. coli colonies.”

1. The experiment is intelligently designed 2. Equipment (Petri dish and nutrient media) are designed/selected/added. 3. The nutrient media are varied to ascertain the effects of variation on the growth of E.Coli colonies.

Suppose Nature is the experimenter?

1. Environments are set up for the creation and sustenance of life forms 2. Sources of life are created (amino acids, oxygen etc) 3. Single-celled organisms evolve. 4. They invent cell division. Multi-celled organisms evolve. 5. Various forms of life evolve and fit various niches 6. They influence each other and their habitats 7. Nature varies the environmental variables to favour certain characteristics and discourage other characteristics. 8. Macgyver and Steiner solutions emerge.

Such a system is meta-intelligent, since it creates environments where intelligent adaptation occurs.

Far-fetched?

A dog hears a whistle. It then smells food. Runs towards the plate with the food and eats it. It does not see anyone providing the food.

It hears a drum. Smells food again. Runs towards it, touches it. Gets a shock. After some trial and error, it knows when to eat, when to avoid. It never sees the creator of these criteria.

Does the invisible food provider have something in mind?

Looks like the question has to be taken seriously. Dilettante is an over-smart, over-imaginative ID person!?

 

AC | July 10, 2006 5:21 PM

Dilettante Wrote:

[I]s there not a purpose behind evolution itself?

There is no evidence of one. Do you have such evidence?

 

Dilettante | July 11, 2006 12:58 PM

I prefer to say Nature rather than Cosmos. However, if you accept that Nature and Cosmos are synonyms, then I don’t mind that pejorative.

1. If the micro-organisms on the Petri dish could think, would one of them know that they were part of an experiment? Would be be easy to know the duration of the experiment?

2. If the nodes and connectors in the Steiner solution were alive and concious, would they know that Dave Thomas set them up?

3. 400 types of bacteria live in my colon and small intestines, making up 1.5 kg of my weight. For them, it’s a habitat. Their home. They have no idea that they are there to make enzymes, digest food, help eliminate waste matter. They just live and breathe in their colonies along with their families, procreate, defend against enemies, die some time.

If told that their habitat is part of a larger organism, they might shake their head. Another bacterium cannot use the words small intestine, enzymes etc. They might ask for evidence, which cannot be provided by the bacterium with strange ideas.

If the bigger organism wishes to communicate with the bacteria, it cannot. Firstly, there is no common language. Second, the principles and the concepts are too remote and complex to be communicated. Third, the bacteria do not have the interests, brains and vision to comprehend the principles.

The Mind of Nature cannot be understood and proved so easily. If we start with the idea of Nature as an Object, then the first reasons that occur to us will be the utilitarian ones – Survival and Domination. We can inductively reason about its purposes and means of achievement if we start with the idea of Living Nature.

 

Some dodging and weaving is required, perhaps.

 

GuyeFaux | July 11, 2006 1:29 PM

Dilettante Wrote:

We can inductively reason about its purposes and means of achievement…

Absolutely not, for pretty much for the reasons you suggested:

If the bigger organism [Nature] wishes to communicate with the bacteria [humans], it cannot. Firstly, there is no common language. Second, the principles and the concepts are too remote and complex to be communicated. Third, the bacteria [humans] do not have the interests, brains and vision to comprehend the principles.

The answers to your 1. and 2. are a justified no. If you are interested in such questions, I suggest you read some philosophy starting with Descartes. These notions are not terribly useful for science, precisely because they don’t have an inductive basis to stand on.

Scientists don’t have much of an issue with believing/wishing that the Universe was designed. For all we know, we’re all part of a super-being’s high school project and running on It’s hard-drive. But thinking this way gets us nowhere scientifically; there’s absolutely zero proof for any such conjectures, ID notwithstanding.

 

But hell no, lets declare victory already!

 

AC | July 13, 2006 3:15 PM

So the short answer to my questions is “no”.…

Back to the mists for this math nerd. Great article, Dave.

 

 

No, the pesky nuisance comes back!

 

Short answers save time, but lose depthContemplation may give deeper understanding, but it takes time.

 

Well, was that an interesting Socratic dialog?

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Does reductionist science miss the bigger pattern (Part 1)?

Posted by desicontrarian on September 20, 2008

Scientific thought is interesting. As a Science student, I loved Physics and had a good handle on Maths. Nowadays its the philosophy of science that simultaneously enthralls and appalls me. About 2 years ago, an article advocating the truth of Darwinian evolution caught my eye. This is in the context of the raging debate on the theory of Intelligent Design (ID) of living creatures. ID basically states that organisms have something called irreducible complexity(IC). Remove one capacity or quality from the organism and it cannot function anymore.  it seems that the idea was first formally proposed by Michael Behe in his book Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution . I quote Behe from Pete Dunkelberg’s Irreducible Complexity Demystified.

By irreducibly complex I mean a single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning

Basically, if IC is true, then there is a design of the organism. This in turn means there is a designer who is intelligent. This shows that life forms are actually created and do not evolve by blind chance and random mutations over millenia! It is a theist argument. It is however being used to challenge the theory of evolution and teach biblical creationism as the real truth. This has produced a furious backlash among biologists/evolutionists and intense efforts to disprove IC, and in turn ID. The evolutionists for the most part have adopted a near-atheist position. Their stand is that God is not needed for life forms to evolve, and His existence/non-existence is irrelevant to the question at hand!

The history of this idea is even more interesting! It begins with a famous thought experiment, the watchmaker analogy.  In it, an organism is compared to a watch. Typically, the analogy is generally presented as:

  1. The complex inner workings of a watch necessitate an intelligent designer.
  2. As with a watch, the complexity of X (a particular organ or organism, the structure of the solar system, life, the entire universe) necessitates a designer.

This analogy has been articulated by many deep thinkers. Among them were philosophers (Cicero, Descartes, Voltaire, Thomas Paine) and scientists (Robert Boyle, Robert Hooke).  Of course there are people who have shrugged, like Laplace. Laplace explained his theory of celestial mechanics to Napoleon. Napoleon, who had not heard God mentioned in the exposition, asked what role God played in Laplace’s system. Laplace famously replied, “I have no need of that hypothesis”.

The most famous exposition of this argument is by theologist William Paley, and it goes as follows.

In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there; I might possibly answer, that, for anything I knew to the contrary, it had lain there forever: nor would it perhaps be very easy to show the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place; I should hardly think of the answer I had before given, that for anything I knew, the watch might have always been there. (…) There must have existed, at some time, and at some place or other, an artificer or artificers, who formed [the watch] for the purpose which we find it actually to answer; who comprehended its construction, and designed its use. (…) Every indication of contrivance, every manifestation of design, which existed in the watch, exists in the works of nature; with the difference, on the side of nature, of being greater or more, and that in a degree which exceeds all computation.

This idea has been a persistent challenge to Darwinian evolutionists, and so their modern-day leader, Richard Dawkins has written a rebuttal called The Blind Watchmaker. He argues that highly complex systems can be produced by a series of very small randomly-generated yet naturally selected steps, rather than an intelligent designer.

He further posits that it is a self-refuting argument: that if complex things must have been intelligently designed by something more complex than themselves, then anything posited as this complex designer (i.e. God) must also have been designed by something yet more complex.

As I have not read The Blind Watchmaker, I cannot say anything about the first part of the argument. However, the second part does not seem like a final proof of God’s non-existence. Just because a designer in turn has to be created by a higher being, ad infinitum, it does not mean that it does not stop with a First Cause. Every phenomenon in the world has been caused, by one or more causes. These causes are in turn caused by other causes. This can be logically traced back to a First Cause, which can be considered Uncaused! Our brains do not understand such paradoxes very well.  In physics, The Big Bang is generally considered the First Cause, though physicists are wondering what caused the Big Bang!.

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Why no activity on this blog?

Posted by desicontrarian on September 19, 2008

There may be a few readers wondering if I have gone to sleep. Well, there’s a whole lot of truth to it. There were multiple reasons for this state of affairs.

  • I was pre-occupied with a health crisis in the family.
  • I was also busy with a project deadline.
  • I did not find anything interesting to write about.
  • Each post takes a lot of think time and effort. I had a mental block.
  • There are not too many people missing the activity 🙂

I am also too lazy to be regular in my posts. I don’t want to be forced into blogging, just because I am blogging! So this kind of inactivity may be normal on this blog. Comments welcome.

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