Thursday, December 17, 2015

One For the Holodex

When I wrote the book of the same name, it was intended only to sketch the broad outline -- like flying over the cosmos from a very high altitude or state of mind.

Complementarily, you could say that the purpose of the blog over these past ten years has been to fill in the details.

More to the point, the book was intended to be written once and for all. I didn't want to get into one of those uncomfortable situations where you write something and then you turn out to be, you know, wrong. That would be embarrassing. And a disservice to readers.

So the book was structured in a circular form. Ideally it would be spiral bound, like a rolodex, such that later insights or details or updates could be inserted in the appropriate section. In the past I've called it the Holodex Principle.

This dodgy and soph-flattering principle came to mind while reading the book Evolution 2.0: Breaking the Deadlock Between Darwin and Design.

The book covers in 300 pages what I tried to convey in a paragraph or maybe even just a sentence. I well recall the sentence. It is as follows (it's actually from Robert Wright's Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny):

"In the beginning was, if not a word, at least a sequence of encoded information of some sort."

That sentence appears in a section that is subtitled Come for the Order, Stay for the Novelty, and goes to the difference between design and purpose, for the former doesn't always imply the latter.

A snowflake, for example, has an intricate design, but the design doesn't seem to have any particular purpose. Each design is unique, but one is no better than another. So far, anyway. Perhaps in the future, a race of super-snowflakes will emerge from the existing one.

You could say that mere order exists in space -- it is nontemporal -- while emergent novelty occurs in time. One such novelty is Life itself, which is inconceivable outside the arrow of time.

Now, DNA is a code. But does it code for "life?" No, not at all. Rather, it codes for certain proteins, and moreover, the code must be read by an organism that is already alive. Marshall asks the wholly reasonable questions, How do you get a code without a coder? and How can code write itself?

Put it this way: between Life and mere matter there is a kind of infinite abyss. In order for something to function as a code, it must contain little information itself; it must be high entropy, such that no particular arrangement is more likely than another.

Take, for example, the alphabet (this is actually covered on pp. 71-72 of the book). In order for it to function as a code, the arrangement of letters must not be determined on its own level, but available for use by a higher level in order to form words. If the order of the letters were determined, then we couldn't use the alphabet to say anything meaningful.

It's the same with money, by the way. The purpose of the Fed -- ha! -- is to make sure that currency functions as a high entropy channel of information. It is not supposed to contain surprises like inflation, bubbles, and panics.

As Gilder writes, "the success of the transmission depends on the existence of a channel that does not change substantially during the course of the communication, either in time or space."

It is precisely "Because the channel is changeless, the message in the channel can communicate changes. The message of change can be distinguished from the unchanging parameters of the channel" (ibid.).

When randomness enters the channel, this is called noise. Which goes to what Marshall writes about Darwinian evolution: how can mere noise in the DNA code result in progress, adaptation, upside surprise, etc?

Yes, there is the principle of natural selection, which weeds out the successful noise from the unsuccessful. But is that sufficient to account for the phenomena?

For example, no matter how many times I scratch a CD -- which is likewise encoded information -- I'm not going to end up with superior music. Rather, noise always results in less information, not more.

Radical Darwinists like to pretend this isn't a problem, but this is only because they embrace a metaphysic that makes the problem go away. That is, somehow, some way, information emerges from randomness. But no one has ever explained how this could happen, even in principle.

Unless in the beginning is the Word, however you wish to conceptualize it. In ether worlds, the word is ontologically prior to the alphabet, just as the sentence is prior to the word, the paragraph to the sentence, the chapter to the paragraphs, and the novel to the chapters.

What is the novel? Why, it must be the Theo-Drama -- all five volumes and 2,500 pages (and much more) -- speaking of overwhelmingly complex information that can be slid into a high-entropy channel, in this case the Holodex.

To be continued...

6 Comments:

Blogger julie said...

A snowflake, for example, has an intricate design, but the design doesn't seem to have any particular purpose. Each design is unique, but one is no better than another. So far, anyway. Perhaps in the future, a race of super-snowflakes will emerge from the existing one.

I don't know. So far, they seem prone to melting into puddles at the slightest hint of a microaggression...

12/17/2015 09:24:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

I could not agree more with this post -- RE DNA as a code and so forth at not nearly the whole story.
And "noise" is a misnomer. Maybe intentionally by the user. What it refers to is (I believe) that counterpart in the external world to what is already present in the internal world. When they run across each other the former reveals the latter.

12/17/2015 09:31:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

"Now, DNA is a code. But does it code for "life?" No, not at all. Rather, it codes for certain proteins, and moreover, the code must be read by an organism that is already alive. Marshall asks the wholly reasonable questions, How do you get a code without a coder? and How can code write itself?"

That's always been a problem for me. Us Coders dislike loops that are never entered, Almost as much as we dislike infinite loops.

And we dislike an instruction/explanation of "Somehow" even more than either of those. Self initiating and self writing code would be awesome, would Love to see it, but... somehow I really can't grant credibility to someone who bases their designs/explanations for that on: "Somehow".

12/17/2015 09:53:00 AM  
Blogger neal said...

Without bounded infinities, the memories of the dead would have no hope of structure. Shameful and terrifying, but that's life.

Tachyons and neutrinos pray for soft landings. Purity control is supposed to be gentle.

12/17/2015 01:32:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Natural selection is really funny when you think that the part is being selected by the whole -- the whole being the parts selected by the whole that was before. There is no possibility of evolution in isolation. Some bunch of parts, which we disguise by the word "nature", must exist or there is nothing to do the selecting.

Math maybe hard, but life is harder.

12/17/2015 03:21:00 PM  
Blogger Edna Shirley said...

Nice post. thank you for sharing. Keep writing and sharing.
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12/17/2015 11:05:00 PM  

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