Saturday, November 26, 2005

Intelligent Design (11.25.10)

Several readers have asked me to comment on the issue of “intelligent design.” This is a debate that sharply divides even conservatives. For example, last week Charles Krauthammer wrote a blistering editorial claiming that ID was nothing more than a "tarted-up version of creationism" which "may be interesting as theology, but as science it is a fraud. It is a self-enclosed, tautological 'theory' whose only holding is that when there are gaps in some area of scientific knowledge -- in this case, evolution -- they are to be filled by God." He goes on to say that ID "violates the most basic requirement of anything pretending to be science -- that it be empirically disprovable. How does one empirically disprove the proposition that God was behind the lemur, or evolution -- or behind the motion of the tides or the 'strong force' that holds the atom together?"

Respectfully, while Krauthammer is brilliant with regard to politics, here he is simply mischaracterizing ID in order to heap scorn upon it. It is not surprising that many conservatives reject ID, because conservatives are generally logical people. However, one can prove anything with logic, so long as the conclusion follows logically from the premise. If your premise is faulty, then so too will your conclusion be faulty.

Perhaps I should emphasize up front that I wholeheartedly agree with Krauthammer that intelligent design should not be taught or even discussed as science per se. For intelligent design accepts what science discloses as true, but then asks what it means on a "meta" level. It's like the difference between studying history vs. studying the meaning of history, two entirely different things. Science generates only tentative conclusions, which is as it should be. It is the job of theology and philosophy to decipher the meaning of what various disciplines disclose about reality. Science itself is devoid of meaning, which is, again, as it should be. In itself it can make no pronouncements whatsover on the origin of the cosmos, the genesis of life, the meaning of consciousness, the purpose of human existence, the purposes to which science should be put, etc. It's just a shame that children are no longer taught philosophy, and instead are taught idiotic and fraudulent things like African American studies, feminism, multiculturalism, etc.

Bottom line: teaching intelligent design in a science class may be good metaphysics but it is bad science. However, at the same time, using science to justify a materialistic philosophy is junk metaphysics, because doing so is simply dressing up assumptions as conclusions. In fact, we could take Krauthammer's exact words and apply them to scientific reductionism: "it is simply a tarted-up version of materialism which may be interesting as a sort of godless theology, but as philosophy it is a fraud. It is a self-enclosed, tautological stance whose only holding is that when there are gaps in some area of scientific knowledge--in this case, evolution--they are to be filled by chance. Materialism violates the most basic requirement of anything pretending to be philosophy--that it be logically coherent. How does one logically disprove the proposition that pure chance was behind the lemur, or evolution--or behind the motion of the tides or the 'strong force' that holds the atom together?"

Science is simply a method designed to quantify and measure objective realities. By its very nature, it is barred from addressing subjective reality, nor can it measure qualities (without reducing them to quantities). Scientific fundamentalists who dismiss ID generally elevate the methodological reductionism of science to an ontological reductionism, which is completely unwarranted and inappropriate. It is to announce that what science systematically ignores cannot exist.

Krauthammer suggests that ID is a closed system, when in fact, the opposite is true. The very reason why science, when elevated to a metaphysics, generates so much paradox and absurdity is that it is a closed system, regarding only the material realm as real. Therefore, everything outside materiality escapes its purview. In point of fact, science, if taken to its logical extremes, undermines its own assumptions in several ways. That is, science has run into several “limit cases” that long ago proved its inability to account for the whole of reality. In my book I go into a lot more detail, but I will simply hit some of the highlights here.

One of these limits is disclosed by modern physics. Bell’s theorem proves that reality is nonlocal, meaning that the universe is internally related and that it has connections that transcend space and time, the implication being that the universe itself cannot be contained within our artificial bounds of space and time. Physics provides us only with a mathematical net or “container,” but not the content, which slips through the container like water through a sieve. The world, even at its most fundamental level, exceeds our ability to measure or contain it. Science begins with the assumption that the cosmos is composed of externally related parts (logical atomism), while modern physics shows that the universe is fundamentally an internally related whole that has the capacity to operate "vertically" in a top-down manner, i.e., from whole to part. Indeed, this newer understanding of wholeness allows us to get past many scientific paradoxes and blind alleys in a way that materialism never will.

Another limit of science is called the “Universal Complexity Barrier (UCB),” an idea developed by David, I mean William, Dembski. In addressing the origins of life, the real problem is the origins of information, not just any information, but the staggeringly complex information found in the DNA of the simplest living thing. There are only four ways this complexity could have come into being: 1) chance, 2) necessity, 3) some combination of chance and necessity, or 4) design. Not too long ago, scientists simply assumed that chance would have eventually resulted in the emergence of life. However, this was before it was understood that life has only been here for 3.85 billion years, and that the planet was too hot to sustain life prior to about four billion years ago. Therefore, there was only a window of about 150 million years for chance to operate, which is far too short a time.

The problem encountered here by scientific fundamentalists is that the hypothesis of chance runs aground against the dictates of the UCB. To take an example, a hundred monkeys pounding away at a hundred pianos will never produce the works of Duke Ellington. At most, they may produce a few bars of Take the A Train, but there will always be an upper limit on how much “complex specified information” (CSI) will result from pure chance, and beyond which the monkeys cannot go.

Other scientific theories to account for the emergence of life are just variations on the same theme, but they all come up against the UCB. For example, the combination of chance and necessity can result in a little more CSI, but nothing approximating the complexity of life. Scientists have also been searching for an “evolutionary algorithm” in nature that can account for the emergence of life, but no matter what they try, they cannot surpass the UCB. In short, it is a completely scientifically accurate statement to say that the simplest living cell could not have come about through any neo-Darwinist scenario of chance and necessity. Therefore, one may safely conclude not that God exists, but that the universe was either full of complex specified information from its very origin, or else that it cannot be a materially closed system subject only to “horizontal” causes found within nature. However, if you simply leave the matter there, you are a curiously uncurious person. Personally, I have no difficulty at all positing the existence of a cosmos with more dimensions than four, and which has both horizontal and vertical causation. After all, this is how our minds operate vertically to control the horizontal processes governing our material bodies.

Also, one must remember that natural selection is proposed in a medium called language, which natural selection is helpless to explain. To be perfectly accurate, either language explains natural selection, or natural selection explains language. Both cannot be true, for if language is reduced to a completely materialistic explanation, there is no reason to believe that it is capable of encoding and transmitting truth, so the assertion becomes logically self-refuting.

Another limit of science is Godel’s Theorems, which forever proved that there is no mathematical system that doesn't contain assumptions that cannot be justified by the system. The implication of Godel's theorems is that any consistent logical system will be incomplete, while any complete one will be inconsistent. Godel also believed he had proven that semantics--that is, meaning, or quality--can never be reduced to syntax--that is, mere order, or quantity. As such, the mind can never be reduced to matter, and the mind's ability to know far surpasses any reductionist explanation. Roger Penrose later used Godel's theorems to prove that the mind cannot be a computer, and that the mind exceeds the ability of any formal systen to capture it, much in the same way that nonlocality shows how reality exceeds the formal system of quantum physics.

Godel further believed that any scientific theory that tried to eliminate all paradox and inconsistency was doomed to failure and that "sooner or later my proof will be made useful for religion, since that is doubtless justified in a certain sense."

Bottom line: if blind materialism is true it is untrue, for it can never account for how matter may know the truth of itself. And if it is only matter speaking, what reason do we have to believe what it is saying? There is no knowledge at the level of the senses. Once you acknowledge that human beings are capable of knowledge--which is another name for truth--then you have lifted yourself out of any mere materialistic explanation. When matter is placed over spirit, all qualities are reduced to quantities, semantics to syntax. You thereby circle around and meet with the cognitive pathologies of the left, which also deny transcendent Truth.

Intelligent design does not prove the existence of God. There are much better ways to do that. It's just that science, properly understood, doesn't disprove it, and I think this is what animates the misguided impulse to try to teach ID as science proper. The God that is dismissed by the detractors of ID is simply a caricature, a "straw god" that they apparently internalized somewhere along the way due to an unfortunate encounter with some bone-headed or debased version of religion. And with people like Pat Robertson and Al Sharpton running around loose, those versions of religion are not difficult to find these days.

17 Comments:

Blogger LiquidLifeHacker said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11/26/2005 10:06:00 AM  
Blogger LiquidLifeHacker said...

I love reading Krauthammer's opinion and enjoy his input on Fox on so many subjects, but I agree with you Bob...He has this wrong, and I am glad you pointed it out. Would love to see you and him debate this live! *wink*

I guess one has to first have faith that there is a God to understand that He is beyond the material universe. Without this common ground how does one actually build on any discussion about it with truth since so many stop at defining and being their own truth? It seems it always comes down to two camps of thought: one explaining there is a God and how powerful He is and the other one explaining there is no God, but in each discussion there is that wall that the conversation comes to and it stops the unison flow to a split of opinion, but no matter how disappointing it is, it does stop each to define their chance in that moment to accept and/or to reaffirm their faith in Him or their it is a chance to deny their designer (God). So maybe the moments are there for a reason...another chance after maybe another chance....until the chances for such thought runs out for them in this life. But as a Christian, I know that each time I discuss it with a skeptic, that when it comes to the point of that "wall" it always brings both of us to that special moment. I relish it and give glory to God that I am again reminded of how wonderful He is and am left from my moment in awe, and then sometimes I know from the puzzled look on the person I have been discussing it with that they are left in their moment with thought...left in another of 'their' chances. Maybe each "chance" gets them closer to their own faith building and closer to a relationship with God. One can only hope!

11/26/2005 10:16:00 AM  
Blogger chris said...

You mentioned David Dembski -- I think you mean William Dembski.

Nice post.

11/26/2005 11:48:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Dabid Dembski, William Dembski, whatever... I was probably thinking of David Berlinksi (who has similar ideas) and combined the two.

11/26/2005 12:21:00 PM  
Blogger ShrinkWrapped said...

I agree with much of what you say, though my impression is that the cosmologists have (almost) shown that we can arrive where we are today without necessarily invoking a creator. I think you are also giving the ID people too much credit for the subtlety of their arguments. They attempt to use a parody of the scientific method to "prove" the existence of a creator.
I recall an old Sci-Fi story (Arthur C Clarke, I believe or possibly, Asimov) in which scientists create the ultimate computer, install all the information man has discovered or uncovered and when they turn it on, the computer says, "Let there be light."
I was reminded of that because I am almost thorugh Kurzweil's book, "The Singularity is Near" (if you haven't read it, you should; it is an enjoyable read, and provocative.) In it he suggests we are close to the knee of the curve and as we eventually merge with our hardware and become more and more adept at manipulating information, we will be in the same position as Clarke's imagined computer within ~200 years. Perhaps we will then be the ones creating new universes and will become the answer to the question.

11/26/2005 02:12:00 PM  
Blogger D. Vision said...

Bob,

I think you've wandered out into the scientific realm and though I enjoy a lot of your writings, I think you're off the mark (or at least spinning your wheels).

"Scientific fundamentalists who dismiss ID generally elevate the methodological reductionism of science to an ontological reductionism, which is completely unwarranted and inappropriate. It is to announce that what science systematically ignores cannot exist."

Not quite true; it is not that science has systematically ignored anything, but, as you seem to earlier understand but here fail, from the outset it has refused to enter into discussions where objectivity cannot be established; i.e. in the material world. There isn't much progress to be made arguing over what, by its nature and claim, exists only in man's imagination--how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, for example. Such subjects are both nonverifiable and equally nonfalsifiable--can you sense the descent into the tangled pits of relativity that that presages? Pursual of a figment, no matter how logical or mathematical its origins, still does not bear on the universe that we live in. Whether you believe that such imaginings exist in other worlds, realms, or dimensions, orthogonal to our material existence still has no bearing on our world--science must, and rightly so, consider such things to be functionally equivalent to myth.

"The very reason why science, when elevated to a metaphysics, generates so much paradox and absurdity is that it is a closed system, regarding only the material realm as real. "

Your unstated assumption here is that you regard science as something static--a closed system whose implications, underpinnings, and myriad tools have been rectified together into one monolithic tool that is worthy of bearing a single moniker. No such thing exists, but rather, science is a patchwork of many tools which have been refined and honed, replaced, modified, and extended through centuries of human minds applying them to reality in ever greater and more varied experiments, improving their precision and tuning them to match our world. No single mind can grasp the complexities of science and address its inner contradictions. No unification of all scientific theories has yet happened--though many discovered have bridged fields that long ago split from each other and reunified smaller bits. It is unlikely to happen soon--it may never happen--until one consciousness can transcend the both limited reasoning power and capacity of individual minds to create a unified "Theory of Everything".

You boxed science and labelled it in order to kick it around, when in its present form it cannot be put into any box to be so utterly abused as you have attempted.

"Therefore, everything outside materiality escapes its purview. In point of fact, science, if taken to its logical extremes, undermines its own assumptions in several ways. "

You needn't even bother taking outside of materiality to abuse the poor thing. It's a bit like saying, circa 1966, that Apollo would not land on Mars--first, Apollo wasn't perfected, second, that wasn't its intention, and third, that doesn't mean its successors couldn't.

"Science begins with the assumption that the cosmos is composed of externally related parts (logical atomism), while modern physics shows that the universe is fundamentally an internally related whole that has the capacity to operate "vertically" in a top-down manner, i.e., from whole to part."

This again is another libel against Science as a big, amorphous entity by hammering it with one of its own parts--irony to the subject not withstanding. You attempt to treat the word "related" with the logical rigor due a mathematical term when it merits no such treatment. It is sufficiently ambiguous to weaken conclusions sought this way. To wit; if you say that you and I are related genetically (and going back 30 or more generations it becomes a virtual certainty), and try to conclude that were are causally connected, then I'll happily punch my sister hoping you'll do the same. The apparent causal connections that quantum physics has uncovered has not yet been reconciled with classical (not to say unsophisticated) physics, of the variety that is absolutely qualified to guide construction the engine in your car and study the chemical processes in your body.

"Not too long ago, scientists simply assumed that chance would have eventually resulted in the emergence of life. However, this was before it was understood that life has only been here for 3.85 billion years, and that the planet was too hot to sustain life prior to about four billion years ago. Therefore, there was only a window of about 150 million years for chance to operate, which is far too short a time."

The last sentence is hardly a scientific statement, unless it be backed with some reasonable calculations as to exactly what the chances are under the conditions in question.

Even then you're argument won't hold water; there is no sense in studying or arguing about the probability of a past event--if the evidence of it having happened is clear, then any nonzero probability is sufficient. The quantification of that probability may be psychologically attractive for a mind intent on finding meaning, but if that event is the impetus for asking the question (or allowing the asker to exist), then its probability is immaterial, since all the myriad alternate universes are either depopulated of askers or are populated with askers asking a different question.

"The problem encountered here by scientific fundamentalists is that the hypothesis of chance runs aground against the dictates of the UCB. To take an example, a hundred monkeys pounding away at a hundred pianos will never produce the works of Duke Ellington. At most, they may produce a few bars of Take the A Train, but there will always be an upper limit on how much “complex specified information” (CSI) will result from pure chance, and beyond which the monkeys cannot go."

In this your logic has erred in three important ways. The first is that if the monkeys are truly random, then they must eventually produce every random sequence, of which these famous works are just one--if they do not, then they are not random, or they are not working fast enough (i.e. to escape the death of the universe). The second is the assumption (which does not transfer to this universe) that the monkeys will not favor some random sequences over others--i.e. that there is no causality, and that the distribution of outputs is entirely random. In this universe, it is not. Witness the effect of gravitation and molecular forces on matter, and you must concede that oxygen atoms do not randomly associate with neon atoms just as interchangeably as hydrogen atoms. The third is that you assume that the outputs are all equally desirable and are equally punished (discarded) or equally rewarded (copied) by the environment into which they are produced. The principle of natural selection puts an end to this poor, overused analogy--alas, even molecules live and die by the forces of natural selection.

"In short, it is a completely scientifically accurate statement to say that the simplest living cell could not have come about through any neo-Darwinist scenario of chance and necessity."

A flat assertion is not an argument, however peppered and salted with the term "scientifically accurate". One senses that such a statement emanates from the belief that scientists started with this assumption long ago and have labored to devise every scenario imaginable to make it come true. Such is not the case, but rather science started with no assumption about the origin of life and have followed the evidence back in time to a dark hole that the answer must lie in. The only assumption that science has made in this search backward in time is that the universe behaves according to rigid laws and that no violation of those laws is permissible. Of course, you are free not to accept this assumption, but you therefore aren't permitted the argumentative tools of science, either.

You are referring to a new name for a long debate between scientists and creationism, and even within evolutionary scientists--that of irreducible complexity. And much has happened in that direction, and there is much evidence to suggest that irreducible complexity is both more reducible than you think and is not altogether insurmountable within the laws of this universe.

This first was the landmark creation of amino acids using nothing but the ingredients and the right conditions. Another important discovery was that of Prions, rogue proteins that roam the natural world and manage to replicate themselves (rather, to get themselves replicated) in odd ways--without DNA.

Virology has uncovered the remarkable complexity of what are, nevertheless, broken cells--molecular machines that are not regarded as life but have astounding capabilities, even for stunted cells. Their origin is not clear, but they could have originated before, after, or concurrent with early life.

Many have argued that certain organ and tissue-level structures have irreducible complexity but nevertheless most of those arguments have collapsed in recent memory with the discovery of alternate uses for partially formed limbs (and eyes), and computer simulation of evolution in action.

"Also, one must remember that natural selection is proposed in a medium called language, which natural selection is helpless to explain. To be perfectly accurate, either language explains natural selection, or natural selection explains language. Both cannot be true, for if language is reduced to a completely materialistic explanation, there is no reason to believe that it is capable of encoding and transmitting truth, so the assertion becomes logically self-refuting."

What a frightening tangle of logic! Yet again, none of the terms you attempt to use, back and forth into a loop, merit such mathematical precision as you attempt. For example "explain" can have several meanings, and in your diametrically opposed statements you abuse their usage. You use it to mean "encode and transmit" with respect to language "explaining" natural selection and as "illuminate the origins of" with respect to natural selection "explaining" language.

11/26/2005 05:07:00 PM  
Blogger D. Vision said...

Bob, I'm your friend, please don't get pissed, but I have to continue:

"Another limit of science is Godel’s Theorems, which forever proved that there is no mathematical system that doesn't contain assumptions that cannot be justified by the system."

This is hardly what Goedel found. The revolution instigated by Gauss's non-euclidean geometry fomented the realization that axioms are separable from their implications and are not implications in themselves. In fact, the consciousness of a mathematician has always understood that there was something fundemental about axioms, at least in some subliminal form, since the days of Archimedes.

"The implication of Godel's theorems is that any consistent logical system will be incomplete..."

No, it is not the implication of the incompleteness theorem; it is closer to the actual content, but you're missing the key point here--any sufficiently powerful formal system with be complete. The magic term, sufficiently powerful, here means that the system is capable of encoding not only mathematical statements that are either true or untrue (e.g. 2+2=4), but statements about the system itself.

"while any complete one will be inconsistent."

It doesn't really say that either--rather that no complete (and let's be clear that "complete" means that every true statement in the system can be proven in the system) one can exist, because he showed that any system has a true statement that cannot be proven within the system.

"Godel also believed he had proven that semantics--that is, meaning, or quality--can never be reduced to syntax--that is, mere order, or quantity."

That came much, much later--it was Chomsky's assertion that meaning could be reduced to syntax. He was wrong--he also happens to be an LLL asshat.

11/26/2005 05:29:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Dude, that was a long post. I’ll do my best to respond. Forgive typos.

“it is not that science has systematically ignored anything, but, as you seem to earlier understand but here fail, from the outset it has refused to enter into discussions where objectivity cannot be established; i.e. in the material world. There isn't much progress to be made arguing over what, by its nature and claim, exists only in man's imagination--how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, for example. Such subjects are both nonverifiable and equally nonfalsifiable--can you sense the descent into the tangled pits of relativity that that presages? Pursual of a figment, no matter how logical or mathematical its origins, still does not bear on the universe that we live in. Whether you believe that such imaginings exist in other worlds, realms, or dimensions, orthogonal to our material existence still has no bearing on our world--science must, and rightly so, consider such things to be functionally equivalent to myth."

--I don’t really understand the point. If you believe materialism is an adequate metaphysics, isn’t that an unprovable figment of your mind?

"Your unstated assumption here is that you regard science as something static--a closed system whose implications, underpinnings, and myriad tools have been rectified together into one monolithic tool that is worthy of bearing a single moniker. "

--No--I’m drawing a distinction between the method of science and the metaphysic of scientism. Scientism is a metaphysically closed system, in that it reduces the hierarchy of being to its lowest level.

“No unification of all scientific theories has yet happened--though many discovered have bridged fields that long ago split from each other and reunified smaller bits. It is unlikely to happen soon--it may never happen--until one consciousness can transcend the both limited reasoning power and capacity of individual minds to create a unified "Theory of Everything".

--That kind of unity can’t happen in the mental realm. Godel won't allow it.

“You boxed science and labelled it in order to kick it around, when in its present form it cannot be put into any box to be so utterly abused as you have attempted.

--Not true. I said at the outset that I accept what science discloses as true, and then ask what it means. You and I accept the same results, but believe they imply different things.

“You needn't even bother taking outside of materiality to abuse the poor thing. It's a bit like saying, circa 1966, that Apollo would not land on Mars--first, Apollo wasn't perfected, second, that wasn't its intention, and third, that doesn't mean its successors couldn't.

--Not true. I’m talking abut something that is impossible in principle, like trying to understand the meaning of Hamlet by undertaking a chemical analysis of the ink with which it is written.

“This again is another libel against Science as a big, amorphous entity by hammering it with one of its own parts--irony to the subject not withstanding. "

--It’s not a libel. I love science.

“The apparent causal connections that quantum physics has uncovered has not yet been reconciled with classical (not to say unsophisticated) physics, of the variety that is absolutely qualified to guide construction the engine in your car and study the chemical processes in your body.

--I don’t know what you mean. Quantum physics is the most exact and technologically fruitful scientific theory ever devised by man. Like Einstein, you may not like what it implies, but that’s a personal matter, not science.

"there was only a window of about 150 million years for chance to operate, which is far too short a time." The last sentence is hardly a scientific statement, unless it be backed with some reasonable calculations as to exactly what the chances are under the conditions in question."

--It is a scientific statement and many people more mathematically inclined than I have calculated the odds. Which are not good.

“Even then you're argument won't hold water; there is no sense in studying or arguing about the probability of a past event--if the evidence of it having happened is clear, then any nonzero probability is sufficient.

--Not true for complex specified information.

"In this your logic has erred in three important ways. The first is that if the monkeys are truly random, then they must eventually produce every random sequence, of which these famous works are just one--if they do not, then they are not random, or they are not working fast enough (i.e. to escape the death of the universe). "

--Or there’s not enough time.

“The second is the assumption (which does not transfer to this universe) that the monkeys will not favor some random sequences over others--i.e. that there is no causality, and that the distribution of outputs is entirely random. In this universe, it is not. Witness the effect of gravitation and molecular forces on matter, and you must concede that oxygen atoms do not randomly associate with neon atoms just as interchangeably as hydrogen atoms.

--There is no algorithm that overcomes the UCB.

“The third is that you assume that the outputs are all equally desirable and are equally punished (discarded) or equally rewarded (copied) by the environment into which they are produced. The principle of natural selection puts an end to this poor, overused analogy--alas, even molecules live and die by the forces of natural selection.

--The principle of natural selection applies to organisms, not to dead matter.

“The only assumption that science has made in this search backward in time is that the universe behaves according to rigid laws and that no violation of those laws is permissible. Of course, you are free not to accept this assumption, but you therefore aren't permitted the argumentative tools of science, either.

--What? If the universe behaves only according to rigid laws, then all of your assertions are merely the result of rigid laws, so there’s no reason to believe they are true.

“This first was the landmark creation of amino acids using nothing but the ingredients and the right conditions.

--If you’re referring to Stanley Miller, his experiments were debunked long ago.

"What a frightening tangle of logic!

--It’s just “logic,’ not a tangle of logic.

“You use it to mean "encode and transmit" with respect to language "explaining" natural selection and as "illuminate the origins of" with respect to natural selection "explaining" language.

--Either you can explain natural selection, or it explains you. If it explains you, then there’s no reason to listen to you. You might imagine that you are conveying truth, but it’s just an illusion.

11/26/2005 06:18:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

cont

"This is hardly what Goedel found."

--Sorry. I'm just referring to what Godel thought his theorems implied.

"The revolution instigated by Gauss's non-euclidean geometry fomented the realization that axioms are separable from their implications and are not implications in themselves. In fact, the consciousness of a mathematician has always understood that there was something fundemental about axioms, at least in some subliminal form, since the days of Archimedes.

--If you say so. But I'm not sure of your point.

"The implication of Godel's theorems is that any consistent logical system will be incomplete..."
No, it is not the implication of the incompleteness theorem; it is closer to the actual content, but you're missing the key point here--any sufficiently powerful formal system with be complete. The magic term, sufficiently powerful, here means that the system is capable of encoding not only mathematical statements that are either true or untrue (e.g. 2+2=4), but statements about the system itself.

--Again, I don't understand your point here. I'm saying that a system can either be consistent or complete, but not both. Which was Godel's point.

"while any complete one will be inconsistent."
It doesn't really say that either--rather that no complete (and let's be clear that "complete" means that every true statement in the system can be proven in the system) one can exist, because he showed that any system has a true statement that cannot be proven within the system.

--???

"Godel also believed he had proven that semantics--that is, meaning, or quality--can never be reduced to syntax--that is, mere order, or quantity."
That came much, much later--it was Chomsky's assertion that meaning could be reduced to syntax. He was wrong--he also happens to be an LLL asshat.

--No, it's what Godel most definitely believed. He was a Platonist, not a postmodernist.

11/26/2005 06:43:00 PM  
Blogger D. Vision said...

"--I don’t really understand the point. If you believe materialism is an adequate metaphysics, isn’t that an unprovable figment of your mind?"

My point was that you seem miffed that science is not metaphysics. You are pretending that metaphysics, a broad concept that exists only in the realm of your imagination exists, and therefore science must describe it. I could just as equally invent--and after psychological conditioning, strongly believe--that there is an orthagonal dimension in space that cannot be perceived but nevertheless is populated by blue and pink fairies. Would I be justified in then getting upset that quantum physics is insufficient in describing the operation of my blue fairies?

"No--I’m drawing a distinction between the method of science and the metaphysic of scientism. Scientism is a metaphysically closed system, in that it reduces the hierarchy of being to its lowest level."

Again, I don't see why you continue to try to extend "science" to deal with what I regard as popular, but nonetheless imaginary, parlor games. I can just as easily dismiss with a waive of my hand the existence of metaphysics as a conjuring of your mind and the whole controversy evaporates.

"That kind of unity can’t happen in the mental realm. Godel won't allow it."

In order for Goedel's theorems to operate correctly, you need to have a formal system that is sufficiently powerful to reason about itself--to not only encode statements but meta-level statements. To extend a system to cover the entire universe would be to equip it with the power to describe an infinite number of universes--there is no reason to suppose that the one we live in could not be justified from the axioms of the system (i.e. one of those unprovable true statements) that would negate its own existence--thus that universe and the system would promptly vanish from existence. Who cares if those axioms cannot prove the truth of some--any--nonexistent universe. You're abusing Goedel in all sorts of ways here.

"Not true. I’m talking abut something that is impossible in principle, like trying to understand the meaning of Hamlet by undertaking a chemical analysis of the ink with which it is written."

Now we're at least getting on the same page....I am trying to convince you that that is not really the point of science, and unintentionally you have given me a perfect example. Hamlet is fiction, a creation, a conjuring. It may be self consistent. It may communicate important information about the nature of mankind, it may even be an entertaining read--but nevertheless it is the product of a mind, and it has no meaning except to a mind. And meaning is such a loose, fuzzy, term anyway....

"I don’t know what you mean. Quantum physics is the most exact and technologically fruitful scientific theory ever devised by man. Like Einstein, you may not like what it implies, but that’s a personal matter, not science."

One, it is neither "the most exact" (a rigorous term) or the most "technological fruitful" (a subjective term) theory, since in itself it establishes inexactness, it embroils the eye of the observer in the observed phenomenon, and has not helped us to create better engines, materials, computers, or pants, for that matter. It is also hopelessly inept for describing gravitation, thermodynamics, fluid motion, chemistry. Its implications are neither to be liked or disliked, but unravelled and rectified with other knowledge. It is neither uniter nor destroyer, but another tool. Don't make it holy, Bob.

"Not true for complex specified information"

Which of course, is about as subject as can be had--I read Dembski's paper and even he labors to admit the point that the specification can happen after the fact--I made the point in detail.

"The principle of natural selection applies to organisms, not to dead matter."

I argue that it does, since molecular and chemical processes routinely destroy molecules of all types and bondings--the proliferation of H20 on our planet could be likened to natural selection; it is a stable, simple molecule that requires a (relatively speaking) large amount of energy to break apart and its propensity to change state in response to heat rather than break down improves its resilience. Don't trick yourself into thinking that there are billions of billions of billions of billions of atoms bonding, being torn apart, and rebonding anywhere energy changes form.

"What? If the universe behaves only according to rigid laws, then all of your assertions are merely the result of rigid laws, so there’s no reason to believe they are true."

Except the whole point of science is not to deal with assertions, but rather to derive axioms from the empirical evidence. That's sort of the point of evolutionary science, for once, humanity might actually have a chance of understanding the universe before it cripples itself, gives up, and looks to a creator to bail them out of all the hard problems the universe presents themselves with.

"If you’re referring to Stanley Miller, his experiments were debunked long ago."

Apparently the scientific community hasn't exactly caught on to your "debunkings" and there is apparently no controversy over the results of his experiments.

"Either you can explain natural selection, or it explains you. If it explains you, then there’s no reason to listen to you. You might imagine that you are conveying truth, but it’s just an illusion."

I honestly don't know what to make of this statement. As I pointed out earlier, you're using multiple conflicting definitions of "explain" and now somehow instead of language, I am in the mix. My origin has no bearing on the truth or falsehood of my statements. You're welcome to descend in infinite meta-level spirals with your appeals to metaphysical truth and charges of illusions, but it still doesn't change the content of my statements or refute them.

"Again, I don't understand your point here. I'm saying that a system can either be consistent or complete, but not both. Which was Godel's point. "

My point wasn't really clear; I meant to explain that your statement wasn't quite accurate--it is not really an either-or. First, you're not going to ever have a complete system, as later computer science theory showed. It would have to have an infinite number of axioms, because even with the admission of an oracle that solve an unsolveable problem for you (and its infinite equivalence class) there still lies outside the use of that oracle even further questions that cannot be solved, as so on, infinitely. An inconsistency of course arises from contradictory implications of axioms. Even the admission of contradictory axioms doesn't help you achieve completeness. In a larger sense, that was my point. You deride science (or scientism) as inescapably contradictory (it is not) and regard a "Theory of Everything" as unachievable (while we might get one good enough to explain everything of interest in our own universe).

"while any complete one will be inconsistent."
It doesn't really say that either--rather that no complete (and let's be clear that "complete" means that every true statement in the system can be proven in the system) one can exist, because he showed that any system has a true statement that cannot be proven within the system."

Let me explain this better with a more concrete example.

Suppose we have a computer A. Suppose we want it to answer a question for us. We feed the question into the computer in some form. Binary is sufficient. We allow the computer to do one of three things--1. it can compute for some time and then output YES--2. it can compute for some time and then output NO--3. it can get "stuck" and not output any answer.

The questions might be something like: 2+2 = 4? And we would expect the answer YES. For 2 + 2 = 5? we would explain NO. Those type of questions are formulaic, but of course we would like to ask all kinds of things, and the computer would be most useful it could answer YES or NO. In fact, it would be rather bad if it just got stuck and refused to give an answer. But for some types of problems, that is all that it can possibly do--if we expect it to tell the truth.

Now suppose we want to ask the computer questions about other computers. We can feed a description of the computer X into the computer A and ask things like--"If we run X on input Y, will X output YES or NO?" Of course, a universal computer could simply simulate the operations of the computer X and then output what X would output. Or, it could have some other means of knowing.

Well the question gets messy when we ask computer A questions about itself. Suppose that we ask computer A "Will computer A output YES or NO on input X?" Well in that case it is just simulating itself, right? Well, let's take that one step further and make a dastardly computer R that inside itself contains a copy of A--what it does is run A first and then output the opposite of what A says.

Well, if we feed R into A and ask "will R ouput YES or NO on input X", if A outputs YES, then that is a contradiction--since internally R will run A on X and output the opposite! Similarly, if A outputs NO, then it is again WRONG, since R does the opposite of what A would do. R forces A to lie--this is a mathematical contradiction. If this were allowed to happen then A could not exist! Instead, we must conclude that the only possibility is that A must get stuck on some inputs. This is called The Halting Problem.

So Goedel's real genius was to see how to "code up" descriptions of machines in numbers and then "ask" the formal system things that if it were to have an answer, it would have a contradiction. Thus any formal system cannot be complete.

11/26/2005 10:16:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

d vision--

You don't seem to have any affirmative, coherent philosophy that I am able to discern. Therefore, your points cannot be refuted, because they are self-refuting, as are all forms of radical skepticism and nihilsm. If you can just tell me exactly what you do believe philosophically, theologically and metaphysically, then there might be something to discuss. But if you actually believe that philosophy and theology are indistinguisible from belief in pink fairies, then I can only take that as a frank confession of your innocence of knowledge of those ontologically real realms that transcend the senses. I'm not going to argue with someone over whether those things exist. I can only try to help people learn how to recognize and experience them, which is the main point of this blog.

11/27/2005 09:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Rudy said...

Great blog, Bob.

Evolution certainly exists and seems adequate to explain the diversity of living things.

The origins of life itself, or more accurately the origins of awareness (which is the determining factor in many experiments regarding mass/energy; and awareness can hardly be an epiphenominon of mass/energy when it is senior to it) is quite another matter, not in any way explained by evolution from a substrate of mass/energy.

Indeed, it would be far more reasonable in the light of current knowledge to say that mass/energy is derived from awareness, and any patterns of living complexity based on mass/energy are too.

11/27/2005 02:31:00 PM  
Blogger D. Vision said...

Bob,

I did not mean to come off as antagonistic as you might have felt. Though I defend my points vigorously and even go on the offensive, I don't mean any personal slight to you or. I was hoping to make my points more clear and though I respect your views and do much enjoy your blog as it relates to consciousness, psychology, and political philosophy, I think you sojourn into science has resulted in many mischaracterizations of both its nature and contents. Given widespread misconceptions about science in general and physics in particular; in my position as a scientist I bristle at its use both as a feather in the cap of dreamers and appeals to its results by every group that seeks automatic credibility without due responsibility, rigor, and caution. Science is neither an elitist's bastion, a layman's amusement, or a politicians rhetorical sword.

"If you can just tell me exactly what you do believe philosophically, theologically and metaphysically, then there might be something to discuss. But if you actually believe that philosophy and theology are indistinguisible from belief in pink fairies, then I can only take that as a frank confession of your innocence of knowledge of those ontologically real realms that transcend the senses. I'm not going to argue with someone over whether those things exist. I can only try to help people learn how to recognize and experience them, which is the main point of this blog."

I'd be happy to have that other discussion, and we can enter that now, but the contents of my philosophical worldview aren't the subject of the debate. That's sort of the whole point of science--to separate the worldview of the observer (his or her prejudices, psychological tendencies, and beliefs) and to extend the capacity of the senses by means of instruments to sample the natural world and, with the only axiom being that the natural world behaves by some--any--fixed, unchanging set of rules, derive theories which have sufficient capacity to explain and predict the properties of nature and its processes.

And science's spectacular success at doing just that is quite evident in the advance of understanding and predicting the natural world, giving us the ability to mold and shape it by means of technology. At least, in that mission, science has been a resounding, and continuing triumph, so much so that belief and superstitution, previous holds on the mind of man through millenia have been retreating en masse. Science has lit the dark corners of our world and uncovered surprise after surprise, continually forcing humans to confront our psychological prejudices and accept that the world does not behave in the most intuitive way possible. Science has continually pounded on skulls and forced in, through the narrow canal of the eyes and ears, that reality is far more complex than our minds can conceive, humbling and throwing down tower after tower of "enlightenment"--and at the same time expanding our imaginations to find that as mysterious as it all appears, and no matter how our minds may reject the conclusions of evidence, the world is ruled by natural laws.

In this great pursuit so many have misunderstood, as you have, what science is and what it is not. You have long believed, falsely, that from the big picture of scientific pursuit that it is, at its core, a search for truth. This is what many young scientists--physicists, chemists, biologists, believe at the start. And many retain that belief throughout their careers. But I now believe this not to be the case, and the nature of that distinction is the content of my disagreement with you in the present--and so now we will come to what I believe.

I am no radical skepticists or nihilist.

First, I believe there is absolutely an objective reality that exists. It is composed of matter and energy of many various types and is governed by natural laws which are approximated by current theories of physics.

Secondly, I believe that I am apart of that reality, composed entirely of the same matter and driven by the same forms of energy that is present in the rest of the universe.

Thirdly, I believe that my senses, though imperfect and of limited bandwidth, do not create reality--that I am observing a portion of reality through those senses.

Fourth, I believe that consciousness is roughly equivalent to a reasoning system (and by this I essentially mean a formal system) of sufficient complexity to admit self-reference.

Fifth, I believe that such a reasoning system is in operation inside the physical matter of my brain, completely realized through the electrical, chemical (and perhaps even quantum) processes of natural elements governed by the physical laws of this universe that need not be violated to establish my existence, consciousness, or awareness of self. I believe that life on this earth provides ample specimens of nervous systems of varying complexity and that both the size of the human brain and its unique tuning by evolutionary processes make it especially suited for obtaining consciousness.

Sixth, I believe that a computer can be made self-aware, but unlikely to be soon. The mathematical contradictions inherent in such a construction therefore require this computer to have approximate reasoning and self-reinforcing rulesets (circular reasoning).

Seventh, I believe the primary drive of conscious and subconscious intelligence is to reason about, predict, and tune behavior to an external environment. I think that external events are experienced through the senses, interpreted according to principles, and then the interpretation is reasoned with, and decisions made. The interpretation can be completely circular in terms of the principles and many psychological defense mechanisms are manifestations of the circular reasoning inherent in the process. The entire framework of principles, interpretations, and inferences constitutes a mathematical system that due to its size and complexity can contain internal contradictions that are resolved through precedence.

Eighth, I believe the process of learning consists primarily of generating (creatively) new principles, interpretations, and inferences based on external events that cannot be reasoned with in terms of the current model. I believe the process is primarily subconscious and that at the conscious level humans are able to take over and control many subconscious learning processes that continually generate new rules, apply them to evidence, cross-check rules for inconsistencies, and remove spent principles and memories.

Ninth, I believe that the hardware of the human brain is subject to a number of chemical processes that impact the effectiveness of synaptic connections and in a network-scope way, along the anatomical structures of the brain, can affect conscious and subconscious processes considerably. I believe the hardware of the human brain is chronically unreliable and that coping mechanisms in the brain structure lead to duplicated function, replicated patterns, and difficulty in reorganizing and adapting to new stimuli from the environment, a process that decreases neurological adaptability with age.

Tenth, I believe that the abstract reasoning power of humans and an imaginative capacity allow them to construct models, mathematical entities, and other worlds whose operations and axioms, and rules may hold considerable interest and nevertheless manage to approximate reality. I believe that humans are equally capable of creating concepts and exploring their implications that have no grounding in reality, and may have axioms and principles that happen to be diametrically opposed to the universe we live in.

Eleventh, I believe that human concepts such as "truth", "value", "meaning", "duty", "morality"--among many others, nevertheless exist only in the minds of humans and their encoding of these concepts constitute language.

11/27/2005 02:54:00 PM  
Blogger gumshoe1 said...

Twelfth:

"...then I'll happily punch my sister hoping you'll do the same."


i dunno.

Bob don't seem like the type,
and your sister
would probably think
getting punched once was more than enough.

11/29/2005 06:39:00 PM  
Blogger gumshoe1 said...

Twelfth:

"...then I'll happily punch my sister hoping you'll do the same."


i dunno.

Bob don't seem like the type,
and your sister would probably think getting punched once was more than enough.

11/29/2005 06:44:00 PM  
Blogger Nicofcusa said...

DVision said this:
First, I believe there is absolutely an objective reality that exists. It is composed of matter and energy of many various types and is governed by natural laws which are approximated by current theories of physics.

I say this:

David Hume said quite unequivocally that the existence of any 'objective' world outside of our sense perceptions and mental abstactions cannot be proved in any absolute terms.
This is some ways is the death of all metaphysical speculations. Therefore I am at total liberty to believe that a God did or did not create an 'objective world' that may or may not be there in an absolute sense.
Secondly; we do not have any adequate understanding of what we mean by 'matter'. There are at least six ontological 'guesses'
(interpretations) as to what quantum theory means and the jury would seem to be indefinitely out on which one will win the day. This presents a hopeless case for true believing materialists as they do not even know which ontological guess to ground their beliefs in.
What does all this mean? We may as well all chill out over the metaphysical debates and have a nice cup of tea and play with our partners and kids more!
Ta ta
Nicos
UK metaphysical dissident.

12/09/2005 07:26:00 AM  
Blogger Nicofcusa said...

DVision said this:
First, I believe there is absolutely an objective reality that exists. It is composed of matter and energy of many various types and is governed by natural laws which are approximated by current theories of physics.

I say this:

David Hume said quite unequivocally that the existence of any 'objective' world outside of our sense perceptions and mental abstactions cannot be proved in any absolute terms.
This is some ways is the death of all metaphysical speculations. Therefore I am at total liberty to believe that a God did or did not create an 'objective world' that may or may not be there in an absolute sense.
Secondly; we do not have any adequate understanding of what we mean by 'matter'. There are at least six ontological 'guesses'
(interpretations) as to what quantum theory means and the jury would seem to be indefinitely out on which one will win the day. This presents a hopeless case for true believing materialists as they do not even know which ontological guess to ground their beliefs in.
What does all this mean? We may as well all chill out over the metaphysical debates and have a nice cup of tea and play with our partners and kids more!
Ta ta
Nicos
UK metaphysical dissident.

12/09/2005 07:27:00 AM  

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