Monday, February 22, 2010

The Myopia of the Darwinian Vision

Of the many philosophical problems of Darwinism, "the question of purpose is the most fundamental" (Jaki). As mentioned in my book, Darwin simply took the world as he found it, and did not trouble himself with the (very specific) kind of cosmos necessary for life -- or evolution -- to even exist in it. In short, he "never engaged in speculations about the nonliving world" (ibid).

This reminds me of what Thomas Sowell calls the fallacy of "one day at a time" rationalism, which involves the strict application of logic to an artificially constrained situation -- for example, treating wildfires as discrete crises instead of predictable outcomes of environmentalist policies that create overgrowth.

Sowell is mainly talking about intellectuals who ignore historical context and long term trends, but the same principle could equally apply to space as time; call it "one space at a time" rationalism, in which, for example, the evolutionist posits a narrow theory that ignores everything outside its little field of application. This ends in the absurdity of the Darwinist who devotes his life and career to the purpose of proving that purpose -- i.e., final causation -- does not exist. But instead of pretending that final causation doesn't exist, or that it is an illusion, why can't they at least be honest and just admit that they have no idea why final causation exists, since their theory by definition cannot account for it?

Darwinism begins with the assumption that life operates mechanistically. In reality, it is a way to find out what we can about the the biosphere by viewing it mechanistically. Which is fine. There is nothing wrong with the scientific method. It's only when one confuses method and ontology that problems arise. For example, I don't mind that my wife's doctor looks at her body as a machine. But if I were to do that, we'd have problems. (Come to think of it, we'd also have problems if he looked at her as I do.)

A method can easily transform into a vision, often without the person even realizing it. I certainly saw this in my psychoanalytic training. However, in my case, I didn't care for the vision that was emerging, which is why I never completed the training. I knew that it was somewhat like joining a religion, and that in order to be an effective psychoanalyst, I would have to go the whole hog and assimilate the entire vision. But in order to do that, one must exclude so much reality -- most especially, the realm of spirit -- that I knew I couldn't continue without doing violence to myself.

This happens with any vision, whether it is Marxism, or feminism, or environmentalism, whatever. Look at how feminists saw the Tim Tebow Superbowl ad. Instead of perceiving what was plainly there -- a loving and playful exchange with his mother -- they literally saw an act of violence toward women! But this is what their vision compels (and condemns) them to see. I give them credit for being honest, as tragically crazy as they are.

We also see it with global warming, which has long since transformed from theory to vision. Please note that a vision cannot be falsified, so that, for example, if there is a little less fog in the San Francisco Bay, it's a consequence of global warming, as is too much fog. Or, if the Great Lakes fail to freeze over, that's global warming. If they do freeze over, then that's global warming too.

Now, do traditionalists have overarching visions? Of course! The difference is, we call them by their name: visions. For example, we have a vision of limited government and a virtuous empire of liberty in which all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights and duties. Can I prove this scientifically? No, of course not. These are values, not a scientific facts.

Conversely, the Darwinian believes that free will and purpose cannot exist because their theory cannot account for them. Thus, you can see that this is a caricature of true science, since science must at least begin with the facts, not just eliminate them through the magic of deductive thinking.

Deduction naturally has its place, but, as in the case of physics, it should lead to legitimate new discoveries, not just make unwanted facts go away. This is what occurred in the 19th century, just prior to Einstein's revolution. The mechanistic paradigm, pursued to its logical end, resulted in persistent anomalies for which mechanism could not account. Only with Einstein's breakthroughs was there the basis for a new paradigm that could account for the anomalies.

If this is true of physics, why do Darwinians pretend it doesn't apply to biology -- i.e., that their paradigm generates anomalies for which it cannot account? There's no shame in that.

Again, look at contemporary physics. As sophisticated as it is, it still has no idea how quantum and relativity theories -- i.e., the subatomic/micro and the cosmological/macro -- relate. So what? The fun is in trying to discover how they do relate. Eventually some brilliant scientist is going to come along and make a breathtaking creative leap that unifies the two. I personally have faith in this, because I know -- or perhaps I should say that in my vision -- the cosmos really is one, i.e., a harmonious totality of objects and events. There cannot be two "fundamental" theories to account for it, for the same reason that there cannot be two Gods.

In other words, as incredibly accurate as their theories are, physicists nevertheless realize that they are "wrong" -- or incomplete -- in the ultimate sense. Why can't Darwinists acknowledge the same thing? Why pretend that today's knowledge is final? The irony is that in the Darwinian vision, nothing can be fixed and final. A human being is not the "end" of anything, just a genetic resting place on the way to something else that cannot be foreseen. Thus, how can the meaningless cognitive effluvia of an intrinsically changeable being ever know an unchangeable truth?

Again, to quote Darwin himself, "the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man's mind, which has been developed from the mind of lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would anyone trust in the convictions of a monkey's mind, if there were any convictions in such a mind?"

No, of course not. But that just highlights an instance of Darwin's "one space at a time" rationalism, which becomes self-refuting if mindlessly applied to a human space which self-evidently plays host to true convictions.

In his autobiography, Darwin asked if "the mind of man which has, as I fully believe, been developed from a mind as low as that possessed by the lowest animal, be trusted when it draws such grand conclusions? May not these be the result of the connection between cause and effect which strikes us as a necessary one, but probably depends merely on inherited experience?"

As you can see, there is a premise in the question, and if one accepts the premise -- that the mind of man is not fundamentally different from any other animal mind -- then one must either accept the conclusion or rethink the premise.

Or, put it this way: the radical skeptic can have no ontologically real mind with which to doubt. "Darwinism is, therefore I'm not."

55 Comments:

Blogger black hole said...

Sorry to be bugging you in the a.m.
I'm curious about your take on Darwinism. I didn't know such people existed.

In the sociology department meetings here we sometimes talk about the point of human civilization; a few cranky staff members opine there is no point at all, but the majority think there is a purpose and a final cause for humanity, just unknown to us.

Most of us don't buy into intelligent design theory, either.

For the most part, we think there is something more, some higher power. But we cannot incorporate it into cirriculum because that is handled by cultural and religious studies.

Hopefully that sheds light on what is thought in the liberal redoubt in which I dwell.

2/22/2010 09:11:00 AM  
Blogger Susannah said...

"But we cannot incorporate it into cirriculum because that is handled by cultural and religious studies."

Sad indictment of modern education. Reason #4,203 to homeschool.

2/22/2010 09:41:00 AM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

black hole:

Perhaps you aren't a troll, or at any rate you aren't abusive or boorish.

I was totally convinced of the 100% bulletproof nature of Darwinian science long after I became a Christian and after I started reading One Cosmos -- at least for a while.

The Darwinians have done an astounding job of convincing intellectuals that the "science is settled". Aside from this blog, probably the most accessible source of information on this topic would be the Berlinski videos on YouTube.

Also, whatever you do, don't confuse Bob with some cheesy "creationist". The arguments here are very subtle, but extremely powerful, unlike those made by certain anti-intellectual religious types.

2/22/2010 10:19:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bob wrote:

"But instead of pretending that final causation doesn't exist, or that it is an illusion, why can't they at least be honest and just admit that they have no idea why final causation exists?"

Indeed, why can't they? I think 'they' do admit just that.

You've just described 99% of Americans.

Christians aren't 100% sure about things. At 3 a.m. on a sleepless night, its easy to doubt. We all do it. Think of the torment of the Darwinists, without even a structured faith to hold onto. But are the religious so much better off? Not really.

We are all in this thing together, and nobody has a truly solid fix on the situation. Not even you, Bob. Not even Petey. There is doubt Petey even exists. Alas. The dead leave us and they do not speak again.

We have to let our condition of not-knowing seep into our marrows and deal with it face to face. We can't hide from doubt. It will seek us out wherever we go. We have to lay with it and get to know it.

2/22/2010 11:02:00 AM  
Anonymous Petey said...

No doubt.

2/22/2010 11:17:00 AM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

Anonymous:

You have every right to go through the phase you're currently experiencing -- most people do. However if you are "correct" that there is no absolute Truth and that we can know it, then nothing at all can be "known", including anything you may think you know. Your position is completely self-refuting.

Nothing wrong with going through the phase as I said. Big problem if you get stuck there for life.

2/22/2010 12:13:00 PM  
Anonymous maineman said...

Hmmm. No intelligent design but a purpose and a higher power. Sounds like a belief in a powerless stupidity or something like that.

Hopefully, you're kidding. If not, I guess the students can be thankful you can't incorporate such fatuity into their curriculum.

2/22/2010 12:56:00 PM  
Anonymous tasurinchi said...

What can we absolutely know with certainty?

2/22/2010 01:33:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"A method can easily transform into a vision, often without the person even realizing it...But in order to do that, one must exclude so much reality -- most especially, the realm of spirit -- that I knew I couldn't continue without doing violence to myself."

That was certainly the path of pragmatism... at first a stab at clearing the desk of all the unintelligible kantian/hegelian hogwash and just saying "fuhgeddaboudit, I doan' need ta know dat crap! Just try this, does it work? Cool! We're done here."... but in the hands of the likes of Dewey, it went from a method for figuring things out, to a vision of nothing existing beyond the 'one space at a time' issue to be acted upon and if outside that, kicked out; utterly disintegrating to any larger understanding of anything at all.

"Now, do traditionalists have overarching visions? Of course! The difference is, we call them by their name: visions. For example, we have a vision of limited government and a virtuous empire of liberty in which all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights and duties. Can I prove this scientifically? No, of course not. These are values, not a scientific facts."

ehh... well I can prove philosophically that there are certain inalienable rights and duties, and they are derived from the nature of Man as such... but, yes, the larger question of where they came from, or from Who... yep, that's outside the proveable paygrade and kicked on up to the Vision thing.

"Conversely, the Darwinian believes that free will and purpose cannot exist because their theory cannot account for them."

And Free Will (and virtue, goodness, beauty) is in irreconcilable opposition to the extension of their theories... a restless niggling doubt they can't hide from, it never goes away, never seen, never known, always scratching, scratching, scratching... they can't even choose not to pay attention to it... inner peace found... nevermore....

wv:liera
Yes, some do play lies like a lire

2/22/2010 01:40:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

black hole said "For the most part, we think there is something more, some higher power. But we cannot incorporate it into cirriculum because that is handled by cultural and religious studies."

Ah. Did you happen to notice this part?
"No, of course not. But that just highlights an instance of Darwin's "one space at a time" rationalism, which becomes self-refuting if mindlessly applied to a human space which self-evidently plays host to true convictions. "

Seems like that should ring a couple warning bells for ya.

2/22/2010 01:44:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

aninnymouse said "We can't hide from doubt. It will seek us out wherever we go. We have to lay with it and get to know it."

One of the worst things Descartes did, IMHO (aside from legitimizing the arbitrary), was to establish Doubt as a method (... which is a way of insisting on the arbitrary... but that leads to severe longwindedness... must resist...). Doubt is a response... a signal from your mental BS detector that something doesn't quite seem right in what you were considering, and maybe you should check into it further. It's no guarantee that you have valid grounds for concern, only that you 'don't good about this'.

Nothing wrong with that, everything good about that, it could just indicate that you are lacking some knowledge necessary to making the pieces fit together, and yes you want to hone your ear for those little mental pop-ups... but.

But doubt is in no way a method itself, and it cannot be, not without completely disintegrating all you know, as well as your ability to know at all, and it is the fast track to a "'one space at a time' rationalism". Doubt signals you to Question the matter, and if there are sufficient grounds, to pursue it... but questioning is not a synonym for doubting, doubting is entirely negative in nature, it is dis-integrating, it assumes error and if given more weight than it deserves, it demands errors be found - real or not. Doubt, when used as a method, insists on incompleteness and a presumption of falsehood in all it beholds, and that is the easy road to utter skepticism and cynicism, a state of complete unknowing... and where nothing is ever ventured to be 'known', lest someone else chide you for missing the area any 'sensible person' would have found to doubt.

Questioning, on the other hand, is investigative without being destructive in it's operations; it seeks to know, to better understand so that any errors can be cleared away and the parts better integrated into a wider understanding. When coming to an unknown in Questioning, unlike with doubting, can identify something as an unknown and to be kept mindful of and examined as much as possible, when possible, and it can live with it not being resolved, noted as something to be looked out for and returned to, without being seen as a denial of all that is known.

Interestingly, to a Questioning mind, the unknown can be a path to further knowledge, even if never resolved, but to a doubting mind, it is a path to ruin - a questioning mind can acknowledge what it doesn't know, but a doubting mind can't bear it, must deny whatever it can't account for doubting.

Doubting is a game ender, as with Hume... "I don't see how my senses convey reality to my brain, therefore they can't, and I can't really know anything at all (except that...shhh)!", and that will sit at the back of your mind and eat at you, eat at all you know, at all you are... eating you away and out of house and hohm.

It really does depend upon which Vision you start with... One which recognizes that reality exists, you are in it and capable of knowing it and discovering what is True and so able to discover errors and eventually correct them... or the Cartesian hell of "I know I'm thinking, therefore something must be here that I'm thinking about... I think... but I can't be sure... can I be sure? I doubt it... OMG!"

Can such a method of doubt ever be worth it?

Personally, I doubt it.

2/22/2010 02:00:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Hey Gagdad,

You mentioned a while back about... I don't remember the wording, but it was about Dalrymple's "In praise of prejudice"... something about seeing a shortcoming in his arguments... or where he didn't grasp something that should have been obvious... I meant to ask you about it at the time but got distracted, this seems like a good place to bring it back up, do you remember what it was?

2/22/2010 02:14:00 PM  
Blogger Susannah said...

Van, that's a pretty funny summation of Hume. Thanks again for your help with our school assignment! I think she'll be e-mailing it to hubby for proofing once she gets it written...

2/22/2010 02:27:00 PM  
Blogger Jack said...

Van-

Thank you for the questioning vs doubt distinction. Traditional philosophy seems to take "wonder" as its starting point, while modern (post-cartesian) takes doubt. I agree that doubt seems like a universal corrosive which spirals down into a big, dark hole. I believe Mark characterized Modernism as "all that is solid melts to air". The fruits of beginning with doubt rather than wonder.

Also, I saw on Amazon that Dalrymple has a new book coming out and thought it might be of interest to Raccoons.

http://www.amazon.com/New-Vichy-Syndrome-Intellectuals-Surrender/dp/1594033722/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_2

2/22/2010 03:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Conversely, the Darwinian believes that free will and purpose cannot exist because their theory cannot account for them.

This is sloppy thinking. According to a "Darwinian", of course purpose exists -- just not an overarching purpose that is ontologically prior to life. Darwinism in fact provides an account for the more modest local purposes found in living things.

And Darwin had nothing to say one way or the other about free will. Strict materialists do not believe in contra-causal free will, but there are other types that do not require some sort of supernaturalism -- Dennett has written whole books on the subject.

2/22/2010 03:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The position taken by Bob and crew on Darwinism as self-refuting never did make any sense to me.

And its been repeated frequently here.

As anonymous, you don't need a large purpose in order to have a smaller one.

Small is OK.

2/22/2010 04:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Cousin Dupree said...

--Darwinism in fact provides an account for the more modest local purposes found in living things.

"At first sight the biological sector seems full of purpose. Organisms are built as if purposely designed. But as the genius of Darwin showed, the purpose is only an apparent one" (Julian Huxley).

--And Darwin had nothing to say one way or the other about free will.

"One doubts existence of free will [because] every action determined by heredity, constitution, example of others or teaching of others.” (Charles Darwin, Notebooks)

2/22/2010 04:10:00 PM  
Blogger black hole said...

Well thank you all for responding to my comment.

I just don't know. It's not so much that I doubt there is some purpose, I'm just uncertain.

It's the uncertainty that I would like to escape from, so I could rest assured on something solid.

Otherwise I'm left to imagine, and that doesn't always work well for me.

2/22/2010 04:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Petey said...

The descent of grace is the revelation of purpose, and vice versa. Try surrendering to the grace.

2/22/2010 05:14:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

aninnymouse said "And Darwin had nothing to say one way or the other about free will. Strict materialists do not believe in contra-causal free will, but there are other types that do not require some sort of supernaturalism -- Dennett has written whole books on the subject. "

And that's sloppy reading. Yes, he has written whole books on the subject, but they only demonstrate one variation on another of begging the question. Have you actually read any of Dennett or Dawkins books? Maybe you have, but did you read them so that their cause simply produced your effect... or did you actually question what you read?... probably not, read them again, you deserve it, or even just listen to him explain how consciousness itself is but an illusion, or read a friendly review of him,
"We're made, in fact, of trillions of mindless little robots, and they don't have free will. Not one of them knows or cares who we are," he said. "But we know, and we care. And the question is: How come? How can that happen?"

And his answer is, that in his version of determinism, determinism is nothing so simplistic as simple billiard ball determinism... no.... no, his form of determinism is via trillions of material robots, each rebounding and bumping into others, and so on LOTS OF TIMES OVER which because there are so many unpredictable bumpings it creates an illusion that is "Our ability to represent our reasons is what gives us the freedom that matters," ... but you don't really control it of course... it's not really choice, just the result of trillions of little robots interacting with the environment and generating results, and because it's sooo complicated, That gives us the illusion of consciousness and of having made choices.

Yeah... that's so much more sensible than simple billiard ball deterministic materialism. Lots is better than simple. A simple abacus could never be mistaken for consciousness... but lots and LOTS of abacuses... strung together with domino's... That makes consciousness and free will possible... it's all in the Lots, donchaknow.

Other's call him out for the fool he is,

"For Dennett, all the ingenious functional diverse biological organs and forms we see are "the product of a blind, algorithmic process" (59). Quoting as authority Darwin's rejection of any role for "miraculous additions" in natural selection, Dennett reduces our options with an excluded middle. He also approves of Darwin's sloppy argument for natural selection (107)."

I had fun with the new atheists a while back, with "Dehumanism: The Mystical World of the New Atheists". They are fun to kick around, but as Berlinski noted, they read like "one sponge after another strung up on a wash line."

Ugh.

2/22/2010 05:44:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Conversely, the Darwinian believes that free will and purpose cannot exist because their theory cannot account for them. Thus, you can see that this is a caricature of true science...

I agree with Dupree that the average militant atheist will contest the idea of purpose.
The argument is that they can account for our sense of purpose or of free will, and that, as we have it naturally, we might as well go along with it and not worry about it. So it is OK to act as if we have free will, which in a mechanistic, darwinian world is impossible. Truth doesn't really exist either, so there's no point in concerning ourselves about the truth of free will while we search for scientific truth.

I'm reminded of the story about the guy who was looking for his keys under the street lamp because the light was better.

2/22/2010 06:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Huxley quote does not contradict what I said. He's talking about a particular kind of purpose.

I'll admit I was wrong about Darwin having something to say about free will. The substantive part of what I wrote still stands however.

The problem with free will is that brains are demonstrably physical systems which obey causality. Either the the mind is implemented by the brain, just as computer hardware runs computer software, in which case it is deterministic, or there's some sort of magic going on. Science is powerless to detect magic, but it is good at discovering perfectly non-magical explanations for things. The diversity of life used to require magical explanations; thanks to Darwin and more recent developments in genetics, magic is no longer required in biology. Psychology is not quite there yet. Perhaps it never will be, but I wouldn't bet on it.

Van: you should learn the difference between thinking and spluttering.

2/22/2010 07:25:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

"brains are demonstrably physical systems which obey causality."

Demonstrable by what?

2/22/2010 07:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brains are physical by definition (unlike minds, which we can argue about). Furthermore, you can easily demonstrate that brains are physical by means of altering their operation with physical techniques such as drugs, electricity, surgery, or a sharp blow to the head.

2/22/2010 08:00:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

"Furthermore, you can easily demonstrate"

Who can demonstrate? To what?

2/22/2010 08:12:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I can demonstrate that brains are non-physical every time I engage in an act of free will and thereby alter my neuronal activity. .

2/22/2010 08:13:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

aninnymouse squeaked "Either the the mind is implemented by the brain, just as computer hardware runs computer software, in which case it is deterministic, or there's some sort of magic going on."

Computer hardware doesn't run computer software. Computer users operate computer hardware in order to utilize computer software in order to accomplish a particular purpose. And so your analogy fits the issue... how?

"Van: you should learn the difference between thinking and spluttering."

Ah. Well. As good a way of avoiding the issue as any I suppose.

2/22/2010 08:14:00 PM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

Hmm. For a few minutes there I thought this current incarnation of Anonymous might actually have something cogent to say re free will, mind/brain, etc.

For a few minutes.

Now we see whether bob and van responses Whoosh! over anon's head. I'm thinking yes, yes they will.

2/22/2010 08:34:00 PM  
Anonymous hey rube said...

re: the "brain is physical but mind is not" caterwauling between anon and Bob represents the sloppiest thinking I've ever seen you engage in, B'aab. Anon clearly stated that the mind, different from the brain, didn't fall into her generalization.

And your "who can demonstrate what?" response re: the power of drugs and surgery over the functions of the brain makes me want to recruit you for troll duty. Simply stupid.

2/22/2010 08:37:00 PM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

"I've got a Cray in my melon!"

Geez Louise, anonymous, did you think that whole big thought all by yourself?

2/22/2010 08:38:00 PM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

Great. Another one. They only come out at night. Rube thinks he spots slop when once again: Whoosh!

Pay attention you bovine trolls!

I'd refute further but typing on a phone on a plane. Van?

2/22/2010 08:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can demonstrate that brains are non-physical every time I engage in an act of free will and thereby alter my neuronal activity.

So you have magical non-physical powers over your brain. Bully for you.

Don't you think it's odd that the things you can exercise your free will over are exactly those things that either are your brain or connected to it via neurons, such as your voice or hands? If you were really a disembodied spark of will, why can't you will your car to start or the ATM to dispense cash? Why should your will be constrained by such coarse physical relations? It's weird! And it's even odder that people who damage their spinal nerves can no longer exercise will their legs or arms to move. Why should that be?

2/22/2010 09:03:00 PM  
Anonymous jet lag said...

Q:
What do "smug" and "stupid" have in common?

A:
They both are achievable via writing on a phone on a plane.

2/22/2010 09:07:00 PM  
Blogger Susannah said...

Let me guess..."purpose" doesn't mean anymore what it used to mean. It's been redefined, along with so many other venerable terms.

I don't claim to be especially bright, so "stupid" away, but how exactly does a random process grant itself purpose?

2/22/2010 09:19:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

aninnymouse said "If you were really a disembodied spark of will, why can't you will your car to start or the ATM to dispense cash?"

You don't seem to be following your own argument, let alone ours. If you really were a disembodied spark of will, an ATM would probably be fair game... why? who knows, but certainly nothing would keep you from it... but that's not our argument.

Our position, or at least in my words, is that in fact we are embodied... our consciousness, that aspect which is self-aware, is very much in the body, and seems fairly well stuck there - hopefully.

Looks like you haven't come to grips with the shortcomings of your earlier computer analogy shortcomings, so lets stick with that.

The hardware, our brain, nerves, cells... are indeed physical, somewhat analogous to hardware, cable, etc, and deficiencies in the materials can affect it's operations as well as the functioning of the threads of executable code operating on the cpu. The operating system and applications are distributed around the physical memory of the computer, but operate in virtualized space within the computer... although it requires solid, functioning physical materials to operate within... it's less specific... difficult to pin down to physical states, and if shut down unexpectedly through a flip of the switch or a blow to the head... it's operations in RAM, or consciousness, may be lost.

At best... with a lot of mulligan's given... this train of thought may bring you up to the level of a comatose person... but there is still no provision here for the initiator of action, the User, that which is self aware... nothing which will run or respond without having had it's specific set of logical statements first being written by a programmer.

(break)

2/22/2010 10:08:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

(cont)

Now a good programmer can make things look pretty slick, wow the friends and family, but it's just 1's and 0's, a predetermined set of instructions for flipping switches really fast which gives the appearance of 'intelligence'.

Most of us who've gone down the A.I. road realize this sooner or later. I've no doubt someone will eventually write a program that'll pass the Turing test... with flying colors. And seeing the advancement in robotics and the fine mechanical articulation that's being achieved (given a huge impetus by the need for veterans prosthetics), I've no doubt that at least within my kids lifetimes, reasonably spooky android machinery will be operating amongst us and giving every appearance, at least within limited ranges (and those limits will be ever diminishing over time), of human level consciousness and interactivity - Artificial Intelligence.

But.

Although these creations will appear conscious to us, to those who interact with it, that is, those of us on the outside of the smartbox - on the inside - nothing, nada, nihil, zilch. 1's & 0's. Sophisticated computational systems executing the code written by human programmers (for a while longer), enabling it to execute one set of instructions or another as determined by received input.

But for all intents and purposes, no different from an abacus. 1's & 0's or pieces of wood shuttled back and forth... the only difference between the whiz bang computer and an old IBM lever operated adding machine is size and power source.

Given an unlimited size, and time to do it, someone could design and operate a wooden computer like Babbage's original design, and have it accomplish every trick and feat of our computers today (albeit it'd be flipping colored flashcards instead of pixels, and 'speaking' through an Edison type phonograph), or even tomorrows Turing prize winner - electricity and silicon add nothing to the equation but speed and reduced space.

If you don't believe a wooden abacus could be self aware, not even if you strung a gazillion of them together, then unless you give way to sloppy thinking, you shouldn't believe a computer could become an Actual Intelligence... and it really makes no difference if you substitute bio-materials and calories for silicon & electricity - or even a trillion genetic robots.

The hardware is material. The operating system and software may seem a step above, but still material and non self-initiatory, non-self aware - stuff and only stuff.

Something in us IS.

I don't have any worldly clue what or how, or where our inner "I AM" came or comes from, but I do know... it ain't in the salts and proteins, and no amount of complexity worship is going to conjure a ghost out of your machinery.

2/22/2010 10:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The most important element to grasp in the fundamentalist Darwinist approach is its self cancelling nature.
Which is: as a purpose driven being who intuits purpose both within the psyche and throughout nature I am informed by Darwinists that no such purpose exists. Or it only exists as an ephemeral epiphenomenon. However, they are lead to this conclusion by a purpose driven process.
The fact that psyche intuits purpose in its own operations and throughout manifest nature is a strong indication that it is 'real' or 'True'.
The same thing applies to the negation of subjectivity by people like D.Dennett. They reach the conclusion that there is no subjectivity or 'I' by using subjective processes!??
Talk about sawing off the branch you are sitting on.
Congrats to Bob for demolishing bogus materialist fundies.

2/23/2010 04:14:00 AM  
Anonymous Stu said...

Van,

Consider AI that passes the Turing test. Perfect mimicry of human form, intellect, virtue and will.

How could we know if such an entity was actually conscious -- had free will, creative intelligence and a conscience?

It would have to do something outside of its programming. Something it was not created to do. It would have to transcend its programming, become more or less than it was programmed to be.

I'm sure you see where I am going with this analogy by now. The only proof of consciousness in AI would be for it to grow or to Fall.

This has interesting implications for the debate between good and bad AI... if AI were ever capable of transcending its programming.

But the theological implications are far more interesting than the post-singularity speculation.

The existence of transcendant growth and The Fall is demonstrable proof of human intelligence, virtue and free will.

Checkmate, Anonymous.

2/23/2010 06:26:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Susannah: "Purpose" can have a variety of meanings in ordinary usage. You can have as your immediate purpose is to do the laundry (ie), and you can believe that your life's purpose is to love your fellow man (ie). Evolution explains the first kind of purpose just fine; the latter is more problematic.

As to how purpose can arise from "a random process" -- there are dozens of introductory texts on evolution if you are actually interested. And evolution is not a random process. Mutations are random, selection is most definitely not.

Van: It is perfectly plausible that a collection of a gazillion abaci has different properties than a single abacus, just as the properties of a piece of wood are much different from the properties of a single atom. Yours is an old and stale argument; look at Hofstadter's reply to Searle's Chinese room argument for more detailed reply.

2/23/2010 08:21:00 AM  
Anonymous Cousin Dupree said...

Incorrect -- Stephen Jay Gould wrote at length that selection is often quite random, resulting, for example, from accidents and environmental catastrophes such as asteroids that wipe out whole species.

2/23/2010 08:28:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

aninnymouse said "It is perfectly plausible that a collection of a gazillion abaci has different properties than a single abacus, just as the properties of a piece of wood are much different from the properties of a single atom."

What is always so amusing about such determinists, scientistic's and darwinista's, is their heavy reliance on complexity generating mystical properties... they are determinimystics, and for similar reasons they tend to be collectivists as well.

More than likely your understanding of a 'property' is as bad as Humes, but here's a clue. The properties which are ultimately discovered in wood, are fully in line with the properties of it's molecules, atoms and sub-atomic particles... in fact it is identifiable as Wood, because of them. Other than the fact that the wood was once alive, which those particles do not explain, the properties of the corpse left behind as wood, agree completely with the properties of its molecular, atomic and subatomic structure - and will remain the same even when carved into a bajillion Lincoln Logs - nothing new will emerge that wasn't inherent in the structure in the first place.

With a Lincoln Log structure made up of a bajillion units, there will likely generate a resonance, particularly in a breeze, something like a flute or massive wind chime, but having lots and lots of chimes woven into realllllly intricate patterns, will not mystically endow it with capabilities of speech, not even if you substitute the Lincoln Logs for abascuses 'linked' together by dominos, and your superstitious assertion that it would, or even could, well... you should be embarrassed.

"...k at Hofstadter's reply to Searle's Chinese room argu..."

I'd rather listen to two 'mathematicians' argue about whether 2+2=5 or 2+2=3.

"Yours is an old and stale argument"

So is "Poisoning the Well", and for that matter so is two plus two equals four, not three or five... doesn't make it any less true. What it does clarify as true, is that you have no argument whatsoever, beyond complexity worship and a sad devotion to determinimysticism... IOW, you be a leftist.

2/23/2010 09:17:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course there is an element of randomness to selection. All that is required for evolution to work is that the probability of survival and reproduction is higher for some genomes than others.

"The race is not always to the swift" -- but that's the way to bet.

You need to be able to think in probabilities in order to understand evolution. Some people have trouble with that, especially if they have a tendency towards extreme either-or binary thinking.

Ie: Either there is free will or there isn't. Either selection is utterly random or entirely determined. Either there is a god or the universe is a soulless machine.

The real world more subtle than that.

2/23/2010 11:07:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, someone ought to write a book along those lines, combining evolution and Spirit... I'd do it, but I already did.

2/23/2010 11:13:00 AM  
Blogger jwm said...

Bob:
You'll enjoy yesterday's post by Spengler over at First Things:

http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/spengler/

Why we don't like modern classical music.

JWM

2/24/2010 06:21:00 AM  
Blogger Ilíon said...

"This reminds me of what Thomas Sowell calls the fallacy of "one day at a time" rationalism, which involves the strict application of logic to an artificially constrained situation -- for example, treating wildfires as discrete crises instead of predictable outcomes of environmentalist policies that create overgrowth."

As, for instance, in my little exchange (starting here) with 'Nanobot74.' Darwinistic "reasoning" depends upon making and sticking to all sorts of logical errors, and never critically examining one's Darwinistic "explanations" in a wider context.

2/26/2010 11:21:00 AM  
Blogger Ilíon said...

Tasurinchi: "What can we absolutely know with certainty?"

There are all sorts of things we can know with certainty; non exhaustively, and in no particulr order:
1) We ourselves exist;
1a) Something, rather than nothing, exists.
1b) Something does not, cannot, come from nothing;
2) There is truth -- there is "a fact of the matter;"
2a) We can know some truths, whether or not we can know all truths;
3) Truth is truth -- truth does not, cannot, become untruth;
3a) We can frequently distinguish truth from untruth;
4) We can know that the logical relationships between truths are further truths;
4a) We can reason from what we know to what we did not know.

2/26/2010 11:37:00 AM  
Blogger Ilíon said...

Tasurinchi: "What can we absolutely know with certainty?"

Last, and far from least, we can know -- purely via reason and without possibility of error -- that atheism is false; we can know that:
1) there exists an entity which we may properly refer to as 'God'
2) God is the cause of "the universe"
2a) God exists logically and ontologically “prior it” and “outside of” the time-space-matter system that is “the universe”
3) God is a ‘who,’ not a ‘what’ -- God is not a “force,” but is rather a mind, a person
4) God created (‘creates’ is putting it more accurately) “the universe” … and us

IF atheism were the truth about the nature of reality, THEN, given that there exists the physical time-space-matter system we call “the universe,” materialism is also the truth about the nature of reality. BUT, IF materialism is the truth about the nature of reality, THEN we do not (for we cannot) think, nor reason, nor know any truth. If materialism is the truth about the nature of reality, we may chance upon occasion to make some statement or other which just happens to accord to “the fact of the matter” … but we can never *know* that we have done so. This inescapable conclusion of materialism is absurd, and the absurdity is inescapable from the initial assertion of atheism. Therefore, atheism is itself absurd, and false.

We can know, purely via reason and without possibility of error, that the things I’ve said about God are true because the denial of any single one of those points takes us right back to the absurd conclusions which logically follow from atheism/materialism.

2/26/2010 12:25:00 PM  
Blogger Ilíon said...

Van: "[a good post on the distinction between doubting abd questioning]"

Doubt as a paradigm or institution is merely the denial of reason, and knowledge, and ultimately, of truth.

2/26/2010 12:41:00 PM  
Blogger Ilíon said...

Hey Rube: "And your "who can demonstrate what?" response re: the power of drugs and surgery over the functions of the brain makes me want to recruit you for troll duty. Simply stupid."

And the fact of the placebo effect takes us right back to the truth of Gagdad Bob's position.

2/26/2010 12:54:00 PM  
Blogger Ilíon said...

Van: "If you don't believe a wooden abacus could be self aware, not even if you strung a gazillion of them together, then unless you give way to sloppy thinking, you shouldn't believe a computer could become an Actual Intelligence... "

I have frequently made the same point, that an electronic computer is just a glorified abacus. And the GodDeniers juat as frequently ignore the truth of it.

(By the way, I'm a computer programmer; though in my case I understood from the very start that the Holy Grail of AI is logically impossible, for computation -- counting -- is not thought.)

2/26/2010 01:03:00 PM  
Blogger Ilíon said...

Stu: "How could we know if such an entity was actually conscious -- had free will, creative intelligence and a conscience?

It would have to do something outside of its programming. ...
"

Exactly ... and no computer program cen ever do that; it's logically impossible, therefore utterly impossible for a computer program to transcend its programming -- there will never be an Artificial Intelligence which is simply an intelligence.

2/26/2010 01:09:00 PM  
Blogger Ilíon said...

Van: "What is always so amusing about such determinists, scientistic's and darwinista's ..."

I call the 'Science! worshippers scientistes -- think of Miss Piggy, The Artiste -- because scientismist was too much a mouthful. And not nearly mocking enough.

2/26/2010 01:12:00 PM  
Blogger Ilíon said...

Anonymouse:: "The real world more subtle than that."

Ah! The "look at all the pretty shades of grey!" gambit.

But, in truth, grey is merely unresolved black-and-white.

2/26/2010 01:18:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Ilion said "... scientistes -- think of Miss Piggy, The Artiste..."

Now that puts them into a whole new, and very appropriate, light!

2/26/2010 03:31:00 PM  
Blogger Ilíon said...

Yes, poseurs.

2/26/2010 03:34:00 PM  

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