The Force is with Us 

 

The secret is out: I'm an optimist.  This is not a great day for an optimist.  Yes, we are about to go to war for umpteenth time in the last century, but this is not the real problem.  This is about as close to the problem as I can see right now: 

'Conflicts rage across the globe' by Christy Oglesby, CNN, Friday, January 31, 2003 

(CNN) -- Iraq and North Korea have dominated the world's attention in recent months, yet in countries and regions around the globe, strife smolders with sporadic notice.

Civil war. Mutilations. Threat of nuclear deployment. Human trafficking. Starving babies. Those are some of the seeds and harvest of conflicts in Africa, Asia, Europe and South America.

And, no, I don't think we are going to muddle through this one, but it won't be for lack of trying.  We are, after all, the paragon muddlers.  There is a light at the end of this tunnel, but we won't see it until we see it.  I claim to see it.  More than that, I claim to be able to point to it.  There are not many people on the Internet today who are making such a claim.  Let's see if I can back it up. 

The point is that we are not here by accident, and we will not depart this scene until we have finished our business here.  We have much unfinished business, just now.  Don't you agree? 

The light at the end of this tunnel is not a 'smoking gun', fortunately.  The force that is with us is something all-pervasive.  It is sometimes referred to by economists as the 'invisible hand'.  They just don't realize how invisible it actually is, to them.  They speak of subtle 'market forces', as if they had their finger on that pulse.  They are won't to give themselves Nobel prizes for writing the formulas for market stability, etc.  They had better think again.  

The tiniest tip of this 'iceberg' is the Anthropic Principle, and how many economists ever worried their pretty little heads about that?  They have not the foggiest notion of what makes this world tick.  And ditto for almost every other intellectual presently pontificating.  These same ones speak so knowingly of the 'dark ages', as if they could see the light!  It has never, and will never be darker than it is today.  That is my promise to whomever can read these words. 

The invisible hand is far from idle.  It has no time for the Devil's work.  It is God who is in these details.  Life is the one monument to the life force, as if that were not sufficient!  

Exhibit A, which just recently came across my screen: "Protein Interaction Networks" (975 hits).  

It is almost amusing to peruse this pages.  The scientists speak so confidently of their understanding of these 'PINs'.  Give it a name and it belongs to us!  Who was the last person who got a grant of money from any source for professing ignorance?  Not in our lifetime! 

Just one little caveat.  ............

---------------------------

[Shuttle and crew lost -- terrible.......]

 

[2/2/03] 

I sense a contest today between my chutzpah and NASA's hubris.  I will win.  We will all win this one for the Gipper. 

Yesterday was the end of the space age.  Yesterday, true to my words, was the darkest day of that our darkest age, launched by the one who may have been our darkest President.  The words above were written just before Debbie called me with the news, upon leaving the gym at 9:45 am. 

Unless my orbital physics and armchair psychology is all wet, those astronauts would have been saved were it not for NASA's hubris, and its last ditch effort to save the space shuttle program. 

The administrators could probably guess that an inspection of the shuttle from the space station would have resulted in its permanent docking (tethering, this one had no dock) right there.  The crew would had to have been off-loaded with shared suits and brought back to Earth in the embarrassingly (to NASA) trustworthy Soyuz.  That would have been the end of the Shuttle anyway.  Deep in the communal subconscious of the Agency was just one thought:  Let's go out with a bang! 

Yes, this was the day of infamy.  It will be the turning point which we have all been expecting. 

This marks our very dramatic turn to inner space, where our attention finally belongs. 

The Space Shuttle Must Be Stopped  -- the only thing left to fly at NASA will be recriminations.  Never again will Texans have to awaken to retrieve body parts from their front lawns. 

------------------------------------

My attention turns back to complexity.  It is in complexity that we will discover the force that is with us, and, yes, within us. 

The limit of natural complexity is our own brain.  The limit of artificial complexity is this net.  The materialist minded complexity theorists run their spontaneous self-organizing principle up against the primordial human self.  I will prove them wrong, ultimately, by replacing Google on the Internet with the authority of a cosmically inspired sense of coherence.  That is the long and short of it.  Against this chutzpa, NASA's hubris will hardly hold a candle. 

Now, back to my 'caveat'.  I was about to say that 'proteomics' (270,000 hits) is perhaps the newest science; it was not in the ms-dictionary.   It is not easy to trace the history of proteomics before 2000, when so much attention was being focused on genomics.  The decoding of the human genome in 2001 was the last hurrah of materialism.  It was a brief swan song.  After that it is complexity all the way down.  'Proteomics' is a convenient label for this unending vista of complexity.  The only way out will be upward -- all the way up.  There will be no half-way point.  A few of us are pointing to the telos.  One of us will break through the noise.  

Yes, there is limit to how much complexity materialism can carry before its back is broken.  I'll bet that proteomics is the final straw.  It is just a question of when will come this break.  I'm thinking two years, just off the top.  One of us will be ready.  

With proteomics there is so much to be organized.  What is the organizing principle?  Where does it reside?  To what could it possibly be reduced?  The known complexity of cells has been doubling on the average of about once a year since when?  Since 1665?  Just about!  Our ability to explain the coordination of this complexity has been falling further behind for these last three centuries.  At some point we will invoke a coordinator.  The necessary ultimate singularity of this coordinating agency will not be difficult to appreciate, once we start thinking about it.  When will we start?  Will we have to wait another three centuries before we get off our reductionistic kick?  I'm doubting it. 

Yes, there are subtle forces.  But they are not all that subtle when we confront them in the deepest recesses of our being.  Sometimes our conscience can be every bit as subtle as a brick bat!  Wake up, people!  The only thing we have to lose is our incoherence. 

It could well be the Columbia that starts this snowball rolling.  At some point it will find its direction, and that cannot happen spontaneously, or even naturally.  We'll know very well when and how it happens.  We will also know who.  What greater monument to the seven heroes? 

For now, we just need to find those who are questioning the spontaneity of all this complexity.  These days, with everyone questioning authority, who is questioning the alleged non-authority of the complexity?  Who dares question its 'naturalness'.  Yes, there are the 'irreducible complexity' folks, but they only question its origination, not its coordination.  A small difference in emphasis, but a gaping chasm in perspective.  'Vitalism' is not in their dualist lexicon.  Vitalism smacks of animism and paganism in their mechanistic view.  They care only for the 'watchmaker', while the nature of the watch eludes them. 

Biological complexity (4,900 hits). 

SYSTEM-LEVEL GENETIC CODES: AN EXPLANATION FOR BIOLOGICAL COMPLEXITY by John F. McGowan. 

 

[2/3] 

I have been perusing the above list.  Here is the bottom line on biological complexity: there is no bottom line

What I mean to say is that with complexity of any kind we confront our now almost familiar friend: the epistemic-ontic divide, or, rather, the lack thereof. 

With the early completion of the genome project, complexity theory is coming into its own, with a vengeance.  The only problem is that there is no theory.  There is an expanding plethora of theories, yes, but there is no encompassing theory to integrate the field.  Thus there is no single measure of complexity in general or of biological complexity in particular.  

Bottom line: complexity is complicated, and no one is in a position to say just how complicated it is.  

After genomics (788,000 hits) comes proteomics (272,000 hits), metabonomics (1,080 hits), metabolomics (3,600 hits), transcriptomics (2,600 hits), etc...???  And, yes, it gets even better: Omes Table.  This table lists a number of 'Omes' (and see 'Ome Sweet 'Omics-- A Genealogical Treasury of Words by Joshua Lederberg and Alexa T. McCray) along with their Google and Pubmed counts, and the first year in Pubmed.  Twenty-four Omes are listed, including the Secretome, Pseudome and Unknome.  I kid you not.  Are they kidding?  I'm afraid to ask right now: 'To add new and innovative Omes to the list email: dov.greenbaum@yale.edu.'

Is my point taken?  What is my point?  What is their point?  Biologists are able to poke fun at themselves, but there may be a more serious issue behind this professional humor.  

The genomic reductionism apparently contained the seeds (sic) of its own deconstruction.  Before the final, dramatic decoding of the human genome, biological complexity was a theoretical abstraction best left to those Santa Fe odd-balls.  But now this complexity is exploding in all of our faces.  Biologists and mathematicians are just beginning to try to pick up the pieces.  We don't wish to rush to judgment do we?  Yes and no. 

I believe that I may be under some possibly 'cosmic' pressure to look ahead, to look at certain kinds of contingencies, as is pretty well covered here.   

The 'Ome explosion' may be an omen.  It may signal a public and consensual breakdown of the very traditional epistemic-ontic divide.  This straw, nay, this haystack will break the back of materialism.  Am I shifting from my contingency voice to my prophetic voice?  I, personally, don't see how it can fail to have this effect in the almost foreseeable future.  By that, I mean within this decade, and that is being optimistic relative to the half-life of materialism.  More realistically, as speculated above, I give materialism a half-life of about two years from Columbia day.  Its breakup will be even more spectacular, and will be carried live.  

There are many now, and will be many more in the months ahead, who, when asked, will say that I am beating an already dead horse.  They may be correct.  Perhaps I should be speaking of materialism's wake.  It will be more like a party, really a celebration, as all good wakes are supposed to be (see, again, Finnegans Wake -- talk about prophetic, I'm just the amateur in this neck of the woods). 

This will be a universal wake.  Attendance, nay, participation will be virtually mandatory.  I will not be the party-pooper.  This time I will be the party-planner.  Just recall that this is the before-party.  We are talking pre-millennialism.  I am the wedding planner.  I'm the Hierogamos guy.  The Columbia crew got to celebrate their nuptials just about a thousand years early, those lucky stiffs.  The Heaven's Gaters don't really count: they were party crashers; although, on second thought, and to be perfectly honest, I was standing at that gate.  

-----------------------------------------

How exactly will the 'Ome explosion' subvert the epistemic-ontic divide?  Without a central theory of complexity, without a Grand Unified Theory of complexity, there can be no coherence in the mushrooming Omic fields.  There will be no single measure of complexity -- no single definition of it.  Complexity will necessarily be an ad hoc science, a pragmatic science.  Complexity will have to be defined in terms of ad hoc, pragmatic and functional considerations.  These consideration are all strongly subjective in nature.  The now exploding science of complexity will be the first objectless science.  Epistemology and ontology will be officially reintegrated.  

Is not psychology already an objectless science?  Yes, but just for that reason, most scientists did not consider it to be scientific.  But now with biology teetering on the brink of objectlessness, with the entire medical system hanging in the balance, the scientific establishment is going to have to do a public soul-searching concerning the nature of science.  Just when it seemed that the biological sciences were poised to switch from 'soft' to 'hard' science, the ontological rug has been pulled out from under them by the 'Ome explosion'.  As biology slides back into the softness of the soft sciences, it will threaten to pull the rest of science with it.  There will be last-ditch resistance from the hard-core scientists.  The (Sokal) 'Science Wars' will re-ignite.  This time the hard-core objectivists will find that their end of the stick will be much shorter than it was just a few years ago.  Thus will end objectivism and the epistemic-ontic divide. 

----------------------------------------

On complexity and emergence -- Standish, R. K.

Numerous definitions for complexity have been proposed over the last half century, with little consensus achieved on how to use the term. A definition of complexity is supplied here that is closely related to the Kolmogorov Complexity and Shannon Entropy measures widely used as complexity measures, yet addresses a number of concerns raised against these measures. However, the price of doing this is to introduce context dependence into the definition of complexity. It is argued that such context dependence is an inherent property of complexity, and related concepts such as entropy and emergence. Scientists are uncomfortable with such context dependence, which smacks of subjectivity, and this is perhaps the reason why little agreement has been found on the meaning of these terms.

 

[2/4] 

How much complexity is too much for biology?  That depends on how much can be explained. 

There will only ever be one natural explanation for biological complexity: natural selection.  How great is the explanatory burden which natural selection can bear?  The good news is that we do not know the limit.  The bad news is that we do not know the limit.  In other words, we have no idea as to the explanatory power of natural selection.  The saving mantra of the naturalists is that there is no alternative explanation.  How long can they maintain this stance in the face of the explosion of complexity?  I guess we'll find out.  So far, they are putting a brave face on it -- keeping a stiff upper lip. 

Occasionally it is suggested that natural selection can explain virtually no complexity.  How often do the naturalists have to remind us that there is no direction to evolution?   They readily admit that there is nothing in natural selection to suggest a secular or temporal increase in complexity.  Complexity is not a trait, per se, which would ever be selected for.  Complexity might augment adaptation, or it might not, depending on the particular circumstances.  This is just another aspect of the objectlessness of complexity.  The objectlessness of traits is another matter. 

Certainly in engineering it is simplicity that is golden.  There was an overriding imperative to simplify the functional designs of our artifacts until, it would seem, we came to the computer age.  There has, subsequently, been an explosion of complexity that is frequently compared with biological complexity.  Does this artificial complexity provide any explanation for its biological counterpart?  It hardly seems so.  In fact, it is just the 'bioinformatics' (992,000 hits) being made possible by computers that is mainly responsible for our exploding awareness of biological complexity.  

Is there a biological limit to complexity?  Is there any way to predict how much more complexity we may be discovering?  Will our ability to discover biological complexity be limited only by epistemology?  Were any biologists ten years ago predicting the explosion of complexity we have witnessed in the past ten years?  I seriously doubt it.  

Was there not a general impression among biologists that biological complexity must be limited by the amount of information that is contained in the genetic code?  What has happened to this notion?  Is the current explosion not seriously threatening any such limitation or linkage, if it has not already overrun it?  Is there not emerging a very serious information gap between the cell and the gene? 

It will be more than curious to watch the impact of the biological complexity explosion on Artificial Intelligence.  It is now requiring supercomputing power simply to delve into the complexity of just few aspects of a single cell.  Where does that leave us with regard to simulating the the brain power of the interactions of 10^11 of such cells?  Does this not foreshadow an indefinitely widening gap between natural and artificial intelligence, just when the pundits were predicting that we were on the brink of having our carbon rendered obsolete by silicon.  

Nowhere is the genetic information gap greater than when it comes to explaining biological or natural intelligence.  One can almost do the calculation on the genetic side.  The human genome carries less than 40,000 functional genes, with an average of 72,000 base pairs each, and they are >~99% identical to those of chimpanzees.  The difference in native intelligence between the chimps and us is to be explained by no more than something on the order of a megabyte of code.  Imagine that!  When I last checked, Windows XP was 500 megabytes.  Are to we believe that blind and random natural selection is so much more efficient and direct than 30,000 Micro-softies hammering diligently at their keyboards?  And besides, at every conception of a new human, how much of that one megabyte total for our IQ code is being randomly scrambled by the natural process of genetic recombination?   Imagine what would happen if we were to randomly recombine my binary code for XP Home with my wife's binary code for XP Professional (Library Edition).  What would be the IQ of the resulting mish-mash?  I think our son would have been institutionalized long ago.  

This is hardly rocket science, is it?  But where else on the Internet is anyone keeping score for materialism and naturalism?  The only other articulate skeptics are the Intelligent Designers.  But they are much more mechanically minded, in their very narrow pursuit of Design, than even are their naturalist opponents.  They are more genetically minded even than the geneticists.  Their view of Creation is every bit as clunky as that of the UFO-nauts with their alien breeding stories.  For the Creationists, the notion of vitalism is as welcome as Witchcraft.  (Forget Harry Potter!)  Their God is the one painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and they don't even have the gender right! 

There is a stonewall of silence when it comes to a holistic and substantive critique of the Scientific worldview.  That barrier of silence will be broken, right here on the Internet.  

---------------------------------

There is an apparent information gap between the genes and the rest of biology.  This is not unlike the 'missing mass' or the 'dark matter' that is believed to comprise almost ten times as much mass as the visible matter in the universe.  In biology we have missing information.  Where is it?  Is it in the genome, the proteome, the metabolome, etc.?  It is manifested in all of these places, but resides in none of them.  Consider how much information is contained in all the laws of physics.  Where does that information reside?  Certainly not in each one of the elementary particles.  Like organisms, the elementary particles exhibit many law-like traits, but we do not suppose that these traits are coded in their genes.  It may be that the genetic information simply serves to trigger and amplify an information that is much less particulate or even physical. 

It may well be that there is holistic, informational 'mind' field.  It may have holistic properties rather like language.  The eight letters of the word 'elephant' certainly do not contain all of the information of the word.  The information is to be found in the relational properties or associations of that word with all the other words of the language.  Thus it is with genes and proteins, etc.  

What about the Mandelbrot set?  How much information is contained therein?  It would naively appear to be infinitely complex, and yet it can be generated simply by the formula of its 'genetic' kernel z' = z^2 + C, which contains, at most, a few bytes of information.  Is there not a similar disconnect between the manifest infinite complexity of the Mandelbrot and its simple genetic formula? 

I would suggest that the Mandelbrot exhibits the holographic-like complexity of the entire number system.  Every number is a holistic construct, having no meaning in isolation.  There is only a number field.  There is a similar biological field, with a potentially infinite holographic complexity.  The genome operates within and upon that field.  Unlike the number field, the biological field has teleological properties that are manifested particularly in our mental states as an intentionality.  

---------------------------------

At this point it is no great stretch to postulate several intimately related fields or manifolds which contain or carry a spectrum of meaning and functional information.  These would be the mental, biological, mathematical, and linguistic manifolds.  We should not forget the space-time manifold which manifests the symmetries and laws of physics, and which seems closely associated with the mathematical manifold.  Each one of these manifolds has its peculiar ontic and epistemic aspects.  The quantum, entropy, anthropics, relativity and the directionality of time all seem to conspire to introduce a strongly epistemic quality into the alleged objectivity of the space-time manifold.  If we knew the deeper relations between these several manifolds we would hold the keys to the kingdom.  We will have plenty of time to work this out.   

In the meantime, we only need to appreciate that reintroducing aspects of vitalism into the semiotic flux of biology would be a very natural step when seen in this larger context.  The remaining resistance to vitalism is just the death rattle of materialism. Let us respect its senescence while we plan for its wake.  Also realizing that the misguided Creationists may, ironically, be the final source of resistance to vitalism.  The force will be with them, too. 

 

[2/5] 

To underscore that last point consider: 

CAN FUNCTIONAL LOGIC TAKE THE PLACE OF INTELLIGENT DESIGN?  A RESPONSE TO WALTER THORSON  by William A. Dembski (2002): 

Thorson's methodological naturalism leaves room for teleology in nature, though a teleology that falls short of full intelligent agency.

For Thorson, getting the scientific community to admit the reality of this functional logic and to make that logic a fundamental focus of scientific investigation would constitute the sort of paradigm shift in science with which he would be entirely happy. He sees Michael Behe's work on irreducible complexity as feeding into such a paradigm shift inasmuch as Behe's work shows that a functional logic pervades biology all the way down to the molecular level (below which biology gives way to physics and chemistry). Nonetheless, Thorson is not willing to follow Behe to his conclusion of intelligent design. Why is that?

The problem according to Thorson is that any sort of designing agent responsible for that functional logic in biological systems would be a scientific surrogate for divine agency. Indeed, from a Christian perspective it is hard to see what a designing agent responsible for biological complexity could be other than the Christian God. Intelligent design, if it could be developed as a scientific theory applicable to biology, would thus have immediate theological implications, not the least being that God's handiwork in nature was empirically detectable and therefore not inscrutable.  

But this for Thorson is theologically unacceptable. Following Karl Barth and a theological tradition that places a premium on divine inscrutability, it is unacceptable to Thorson that God's agency in the world not be completely shrouded in mystery. In addition to Barth, Thorson cites Austin Farrer, who argued that the metaphysical joint at which divine agency intersects the created world is fundamentally inscrutable. Thorson concludes that "divine agency is essentially mysterious at every level."  

I've long ceased to be impressed by claims of divine inscrutability. Whenever I'm confronted with such claims, I invariably recall G. K. Chesterton's epigram, "We don't know enough about the unknown to know that it is unknowable." To be sure, it might serve certain theological interests to keep God, and divine agency in particular, inscrutable. But the claim of divine inscrutability, just as any other controversial claim, needs an argument if it is to be judged in the market of ideas.

I'm going to have to investigate Thorson on my own.  His functional teleology seems closer to a rational theism than does Dembski's watchmaking Mechanic.  Why Thorson sees functionalism as favoring the inscrutability of God is presently inscrutable to me.  Unfortunately, Thorson's article is not yet available on the ASA website.  

What I do notice from perusing biological complexity is that the IDers are continuing to rock the scientific boat.  Even though their mechanistic conception of creation is wrong, their boat rocking could well create an opening for a more metaphysical view.  I do notice some polarization between the IDers and the ASA contingent.  The ASA might provide a platform for a less mechanistic account, as they did for Thorson.  Their journal is not posted to the web until one year after publication.  If they want to participate in the premillennial politics, they will have to be more expeditious than that.  However, they probably will not wish to associate with someone with my radical view of spiritual politics.  Once again, we'll have to pray to the Google gods! 

Here is the latest scoop: 

DARWIN AND DESIGN: A debate about the latest defense of intelligent design. -- William A. Dembski and H. Allen Orr (12/02).  

The primary attack on Dembski concerns his mystagoguery.  I agree with that criticism.  Bill will never be able to squeeze any rational coherence out of his Cartesian dualism.  

Dembski refers to James Shapiro (Univ. Chicago) associated with ISCID

The International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design (ISCID) is a cross-disciplinary professional society that investigates complex systems apart from external programmatic constraints like materialism, naturalism, or reductionism.

That sounds promising! 

A 21st Century View of Evolution by James A. Shapiro: 

Molecular genetics has amply confirmed McClintock’s discovery that living organisms actively reorganize their genomes. It has also supported her view that the genome can "sense danger" and respond accordingly. The recognition of the fundamentally biological nature of genetic change and of cellular potentials for information processing frees our thinking about evolution. In particular, our conceptual formulations are no longer dependent on the operation of stochastic processes. Thus, we can now envision a role for computational inputs and adaptive feedbacks into the evolution of life as a complex system. Indeed, it is possible that we will eventually see such information-processing capabilities as essential to life itself. 

Had I not been forewarned, I might have missed Jim's still implicit anti-naturalism.  What he may say in private to Bill is another matter. 

There is now a burgeoning field of 'evolutionary computing' (27,000 hits).  I am not aware of any pervasive anti-naturalist sentiment in this field.  Most of the workers seem to feel that they are actually exploiting Darwin, not refuting him.  Where Jim and the ISCID part company with this nascent industry needs investigation. 

Genome Organization and Reorganization in Evolution: Formatting for Computation and Function by James A. Shapiro (2001): 

Molecular discoveries about mechanisms of DNA restructuring show that cells possess the Natural Genetic Engineering functions necessary for evolutionary change by rearranging genomic components and reorganizing system architectures. The concepts of cellular computation and decision-making, genome system architecture, and natural genetic engineering combine to provide a new way of framing evolutionary theories and understanding genome sequence information. 

This is a bit more explicit.  This seems rather like the functionalism that Dembski was just criticizing in Thorson.  Jim continues:

The most profound, and most challenging, new aspect of thinking in a 21st Century fashion about evolution will be the application of information-processing ideas to the emergence of adaptive novelty. A major problem, often cited by religious and other critics of orthodox evolutionary theory, is how to explain the appearance of complex genomic systems encoding sophisticated multicomponent adaptive features.  The possibility that computational control of natural genetic engineering functions can provide an answer to the problems of Irreducible Complexity and Intelligent Design deserves to be explored fully. Contrary to the claims of some Creationists, these issues are not scientifically intractable. They require an application of lessons from the fields of artificial intelligence, self-adapting complex systems, and molecular cell biology. 

[...]  One philosophical question that has proved extraordinarily contentious concerns the respective roles of design and chance in evolution. This topic is so heated because it touches on fundamental differences between materialistic assumptions and religious faith. However, I argue that molecular discoveries about cellular information processing, epigenetic modifications of the genome, and natural genetic engineering place this issue in a new (?) naturalistic perspective. We can now postulate a role for some kind of purposeful, informed cellular action in evolution without violating any tenets of contemporary science or invoking actors beyond experimental investigation. It remains to be established how "smart" cellular networks can be in guiding genome reformatting and sequence reorganization towards adaptive needs.

Say what??  We have here a 'naturalistic' 'purposeful' action!!  On previous occasions I have resorted to using the word 'oxymoronicity'.  I think here the phrase 'Oxymoron City' would be more apt.  George Orwell could take some pride in this exemplar of Doublethink.  Am I being too tough on Jim?  That remains to be seen.  Perhaps his use of 'new' needs further examination. 

From ISCID

James Barham asks important questions on design, teleology and the considers the notion of "thinking matter" ... [more]

[...]  No doubt, most readers will assume that empirical science passed a negative judgment on this idea long ago. They will feel that today thinking matter is at best a bare possibility, not a live one. Certainly, the proposition that a certain kind of matter has an intrinsic power of thought flouts the spirit of the Mechanistic Consensus. However, I shall argue below that the Mechanistic Consensus is mistaken in each of its main theses: (1) present-day physics and chemistry do not provide the conceptual resources for a complete understanding of how living things work; (2) natural selection does not provide an adequate ground for naturalizing the normative teleology in living things, which is no mere appearance, but rather objective reality; and (3) thinking is not just a matter of computation, nor does the normative character of thought have anything to do with brains per se. The upshot of these negative arguments will be that living matter is special. Finally, I will conclude on a more positive note by briefly reviewing some ways in which we might begin to understand this specialness scientifically. 

Now we're getting down to the nitty-gritty.  Is this what Jim S. was talking about?  Jim B. continues: 

A term like "second messenger," they say, is a metaphor that, while not strictly necessary, is useful in order to avoid intolerably verbose descriptions of the mechanistic interactions that underlie the appearances. Such a façon de parler is a promissory note redeemable in the hard currency of physics and chemistry. But like any IOU, this promise issued by molecular biology is only as sound as the other sciences backing it up. If they cannot make it good, then the note is worthless. Therefore, it behooves us to take a closer look at the conceptual solvency of the Mechanistic Consensus. 

[For later reference: BACK TO THE STOICS: Dynamical Monism as the Foundation for a Reformed Naturalism (Talk Delivered at Calvin College, May 25, 2001) JAMES BARHAM.  'Reformed naturalism'?  OK, that's what Jim S. must have been alluding to above.]  Now continuing from 'thinking matter':  

To say that a chemical compound "survives" or that a crystal "reproduces" itself is to employ metaphors that obscure the point at issue. The very thing we are trying to explain is how it is possible for an organism to direct energy in a way that promotes its self-preservation, and not in other energetically equivalent ways. Thus, the notions of survival and reproduction already contain the normative feature of striving to achieve particular preferred states. They are far from the unproblematic mechanistic concepts that a successful reduction would require. Rather, they demarcate the boundary between the living and the nonliving, and so constitute the very heart of the problem of teleology.

Yes, I meant to say that earlier! 

However, this does not mean that we are forced to accept the Intelligent Design conclusion. We may just as well reject the premise, instead. In that case, we may say that the "design inference" (Dembski, 1998) constitutes a reductio ad absurdum of the proposition that organisms are machines. If we drop this premise, then we are free to view organisms as active and fully integrated systems, in which a change in one part leads to appropriate changes cascading throughout the system in accordance with functional logic. In this case, evolution begins to make sense from a physical point of view. But now Darwinism has forfeited all of its reductive power! We have simply assumed the functional organization of the cell, which is the very thing we claimed to be able to explain by means of the theory of natural selection.

Darwinians often complain that such criticisms are based on a misunderstanding. It is not chance, they say, that bears the explanatory weight in their theory, it is the selection principle.  Natural selection is said to act as a ratchet, locking into place the functional gains that are made, so that each new trait can be viewed as a small incremental step with an acceptable probability.  But what Darwinians forget is that the way a ratchet increases probabilities and imposes directionality is through its own structure. In the present context, the structure of the ratchet is simply the functional organization of life. Darwinians are only entitled to claim that the explanatory burden of their theory lies on the selection "ratchet," thus avoiding the combinatorial explosion problem, provided that they also acknowledge that the structure of this ratchet consists precisely in the intrinsic functional correlations among the parts of the organism. But now they have merely assumed the very functional organization that they claimed to be able to explain, thus sneaking teleology in by the back door.

Has it really taken us a century and half to finally articulate these most basic facts of life?  The Darwinians have been having a free logic lunch all these years.  When these chickens come home to roost, it will be a hot time in the coop.  Did I say 'two years' from Columbia day?  I'm being very generous! 

 

[2/6] 

It appears that ISCID (International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design) could be an important resource.  It is more open to metaphysical speculation than are the IDers.  It does not have a theological agenda, as do the IDers, despite their frequent protests to the contrary.  I will be looking out for connections between ISCID and the biosemiotics groups previously discussed.  I can't recall having seen this site before now.  I may have confused it with one of the many ID sites.  I'm going to be looking over the rest of their material.  James Barham appears to be the most relevant for me.  I gather that the IDers are ambivalent about ISCID.  They simply don't know what to make of it.  Wait 'til they grok on biosemiotics.  The fields of biosemiotics, informational ontology, and complexity theory seem to borrow in part from cybernetics and systems theory (see here, here, etc.(12,000 hits)).  I am a bit rusty in this area.  The whole game is about transcending the epistemic-ontic divide.  It is a very tricky business. 

I am struck by Barham's take on reproduction.  If he is correct about its being irreducibly normative, that puts normativity at the center of Darwinism.  Notice Rex Kerr's response, posted on 2/4: 

But by using words like "normative" here, we're immediately in danger of being misled. Does present-day physics and chemistry have the conceptual resources for a complete understanding of how living things work? Yes, as far as they go. It is inconvenient to use the language of physics and chemistry to describe systems of such complexity, though, so we use additional language. Barham seems to be implying that our use of additional language imposes some deep philosophical burden upon us.

Yes, that is precisely Jim's point.  Jim's respondents don't quite appreciate the depth of the burden.  Perhaps it could stand further explication.  I was missing this simple point myself until Jim's remarks hit me over the head with it yesterday. 

Biological reproduction is an open ended, indefinable concept. It greatly transcends even the basic concept of copying, which is itself fraught with ambiguity.  Just look at the concept of 'copy'.  It is an almost entirely normative in meaning, unless taken in a purely abstract, digital context.  And if taken in its most abstract form, you would then have to contend with the deep metaphysical issues surrounding Leibniz' Identity of Indiscernibles.  

Does that mean that biological reproduction is metaphysical?  Yes and no.  Any particular instance of it could be perfectly physical or mechanical.  But Darwinians are not talking about instances.  They do and must appeal to a universal concept of reproduction.  Evolution is not an instance of anything.  If it is anything at all it is a very general pattern of inheritance.  

Darwinians assert that reproduction, along with mutation, is the basic 'mechanism' of evolution: 

Reproduction + mutation --> (cause) evolution?

But is reproduction a causal entity?  Is it fair to say that hurricanes cause destruction?  It is fair for a layperson to say that, but that does not make it a scientific statement.  Hurricanes happen and destruction happens, and there is some correlation between the two, but that is not science: it is not cause and effect. 

Darwinians claim to understand evolution.  Biologists claim to understand reproduction.  Let us grant that biologists do have a good grasp of many of the particulars of 'reproduction'.  The problem comes when you subsequently attempt to employ 'reproduction' as an ontological or causal entity.  

The most that Darwinians can legitimately claim is that reproduction happens and evolution happens, and the two processes seem to be correlated.  Who knows where the causality resides? 

I am a teleologist.  From my perspective evolution causes and comes logically prior to reproduction. It is the primordial, metaphysical necessity of the Telos that causes and ultimately explains the emergence of biological and reproductive phenomena. 

My teleological claim is just as much justified by the observed correlation between evolution and reproduction as is the Darwinian claim. 

Darwinians appeal to our mechanistic and materialistic sensibilities.  Evolution is alleged by them to be reduced to reproduction and mutation, both of which may or may not be further reducible.  They postulate a hierarchy of phenomena where all the causation is mechanistic or 'upward'.  

Is their claim just a 'facon de parler'?  I think not.  I think that they think they have worked it all down to the 'brass tacks', to the 'nuts and bolts'.  There is nothing in the phenomenon of evolution to suggest whether the causes are upward or downward or both.  The only thing to suggest otherwise is the Darwinian appeal to an illegitimate ontology of 'reproduction' and many other emergent entities which are every bit as much epistemic in substance as they are ontic.  As such they are neither physical nor mechanical and may not legitimately be appealed to as if they were, or even might be!  

James Barham is pointing out that the Darwinians need to get serious about their logic and ontology, after a century and a half of very loose talk. 

[The substance of the above argument is posted on the ISCID site.]

----------------------------------

Now may be the time to look at 'evolutionary computing'. The implicit and sometimes explicit claim is that by using the technique of 'natural selection' we can spontaneously produce artificial and perhaps even  natural intelligence.  Thus might evolutionary computing demonstrate the truth of Darwinism.  This could also go a long way toward substantiating the tenets of Transhumanism.  Perhaps the force is not with us.  It is with artificial life.  We had better take a look before it is too late!  [This is postponed temporarily in favor of the ISCID forum.] 

 

[2/9] 

The conversation on the ISCID forum continued through yesterday.  I invited Mark Szlazak to compare and contrast his views with those of Gregg Rosenberg, whom Mark has quoted several times.  Gregg shows up on a list of active anti-reductionists that I was putting together back in November.  

While waiting for Mark to respond, I might as well attempt my own assessment of Gregg's work.  I have only briefly reviewed his book, so first, by way of placing his work in an historical, intellectual context, let me start with some general comments on the status of anti-reductionism.  

Active anti-reductionism presently exists in three principal areas.  Two of these are driven mainly by philosophical considerations.  On the Anglo-American side there is the continuing fall-out from the several failures of the analytical enterprise that arose near the beginning of the last century, which in its turn was an attempt to ground philosophy with a few simple and self-evident truths, rather in the spirit of Descartes and of axiomatic mathematics.  Striking form within its ranks, Godel and Quine had managed to effectively derail this enterprise by mid-century.  Since then, analytical philosophy has lived on, mainly as a style of thinking and writing.  Several people on the above mentioned list pursue their anti-reductionism in the analytical style.  Gregg is one of them. 

On the 'Continental' side there is a different philosophical story.  There it was Kant who set the stage, and it is a more complicated story.  Kant's strategy for dealing with Humean skepticism was mostly one of containment.  According to his 'critical idealism', only Science could be protected from Hume's skepticism.  The attempts to rebuild metaphysics after Kant had to borrow heavily from the few glimmers of his idealism that he allowed to shine through his critical armor.   Out of this reconstruction came the doubly contrary Dialectics of Hegel and Marx.  What survives now is Phenomenology, which is a curious amalgam of Kant and Descartes.  Semiotics has spun itself off from the phenomenological and structuralist traditions.   Lacking any firm attachments, it threatens to drift in the analytical direction.  This is particularly true of its youngest sibling: biosemiotics.  

The third front in anti-reductionism is being driven, ironically, by the Artificial Intelligencers.  As noted previously the practical demands of knowledge based systems are forcing its practitioners to take up the ontological enterprise eschewed by their philosophical colleagues.  Surprisingly they are launching into this task with some gusto, and even performing some metaphysical peregrinations of their own. 

It is no secret that these anti-reductionist efforts are singularly lacking in coherence, both individually and as whole.  The is only the strongly implied hope that their patient labors in the analytical trenches will, as it seems to have with their scientific colleagues, reward them eventually with a full blown cosmology that can stand up to, and ultimately surpass that of science.  These workers see themselves mainly as revising, reforming and extending the awesome scientific edifice.  For now, they labor, barely noticed, in its deepest shadows. 

I am skeptical of any analytical effort to resurrect metaphysics.  I believe that it is self-defeating.  The best that can result is a papering over of the numerous antinomies of materialism and analytical philosophy, along with the grafting of some ungainly appendages.  This reformist mentality is not taking seriously the notion of a Kuhnian paradigm shift, and the resulting incommensurability between old and new paradigms.  It is somehow hoped that the now bloated analytical apparatus of the old system can be imported, more or less, intact into whatever is to be the new system. 

With a new paradigm, we will have to make a new start.  The task appears daunting.  How could we ever hope to compete with, or even significantly influence, our colleagues on the other side of the metaphysical divide, without strongly emulating their now traditional enterprise? 

There is, I believe, only one strategy that is even modestly inviting.  This is to appeal to a coherent, comprehensive rationality.  One might suppose that this would be a fairly obvious and well-trodden path.  However, as my search for fellow sojourners on this path continues in vain, I can only conclude that it is the necessarily radical nature of the resulting rationale that keeps the mere voyeurs at bay.  Furthermore, the resulting coherent rationale cuts right across the major metaphysical schools of the past.  Someone who is even moderately comfortable within any one of those schools, will not have sufficient desire to venture out across the various metaphysical no-man's-lands that are the gaps between the traditional systems.  

Furthermore, one has to also be willing to take on the prophetic and proselytizing burden that goes with any such radical departure from historical norms.  This is not merely an intellectual journey.  It is a metaphysical journey in the full sense of that word. 

 

[2/16] 

Several days later, and the conversation on the ISCID forum still continues.  I'll use this space here to collect my thoughts and look ahead.  My part of the conversation is with a physicalist and a naturalist.  I will try to persuade the physicalist to retreat to naturalism.  The next real sticking point will likely be the MIR (mind indep. reality) in view of the apparent depth of time and space, relative to human consciousness.  But I would argue that is just a subjective matter of relative degree, as between oranges and apples.  Why would it be more difficult to reject the MIRH just given the phenomenal existence of another person, as compared to that of another galaxy?  How much more difficult? 

In fact, I would argue that our intuition primary intuition of an MIR comes from other people.  It is then to the rest of the world that we extend that notion.  This is a fact of epistemology.  

Suppose that one were a King of Shangri La, with a virtually static history.  Where then would the be the MIR?  The concept of possible worlds is not live. 

 

[2/22] 

I was removed [r] from the ISCID forum last night.  That means I am no longer allowed to post a message there.  The topic to which I was posting 'thinking matter' was closed at the same time.  The postings, however, are supposed to remain in their archive.  This was only my second attempt at participating in a forum, not counting the Sarfatti mail list.  The last time was eight or nine years ago on the CompuServe UFO forum, which ended in a similar fashion.  I doubt that as much time will elapse before I make another such attempt.  Each time is a learning experience.  Permit me now to collect my thoughts, and rethink my strategy. 

Off the top, it appears that I have very little difficulty in significantly stirring an already controversial pot, but how does one poke around a hornets' nest and not get stung?  It's not that I am opposed to being stung per se, but in the process of getting stung one usually looses the thread of the discussion, both figuratively and literally in these cases.  It is distracting for all involved.  It's also like a high-wire act: the balance will always be precarious. 

I need to be aware of the 'politics' involved.  How much of the politics will simply be reflex reactions, and how much will be deliberated?  I need a technique for sounding out the 'political' tendencies of the various parties, to anticipate the optimal point balance.  This is not easy when deeply controversial issues are involved, as they are bound to be in the case of religious beliefs.  In such cases the participants will harbor many unconscious motivations.  A mere sounding-out may trigger the unwanted reactions.  

How does all this relate to the Eschaton?  I would say that things remain on track for the imminent messianic introduction of the Millennium and subsequent eschaton.  Not many more forays like this should solve any problems relative to Internet visibility via Google, and the like.  At the same time, in the process of sharpening my rhetorical skills, I can use the intermezzos to tighten up the presentation of these topics here, which still leaves much to be desired.  By getting a better feel for the relevant psychology and spiritual politics, I can be more discerning about the optimal targeting of the eschatological message.  So I will probably use the next few days here to work out a better outline of my ideas, and then contemplate another testing of the waters.  

In the meantime I'll be taking in the Gods and Generals movie -- four hours of it, I am told. 

 

[2/23] 

Norms are an inescapable core of reason.  They are stronger than mere convention.  There have functional and teleological aspects.   Thus are norms inescapable in both the physical and life sciences.  The normativity cannot be disentangled from the objectivity; and, furthermore, objectivity itself is normative.  Mathematics is similarly invested with the norms of reason.  The normative methods cannot be removed from the results.  There is nothing natural about math.  All abstracting is normative.  

The normativity of science is reflected in its use of counterfactuality.  Modality is essentially normal, and vice versa.   Normality is about modality.  Causality is both normal and modal.  

How are norms unnatural?  They are intentional, aesthetic, pragmatic and you name it.  They make it possible for us to analyze, reflect and 'objectify' the world.  They are often universal. Norms are built into every artifact.  They cannot be formalized, but every formality is normative. 

Thought cannot escape from its own norms.  If there were a non-normative, mind independent reality, we could not know it.  Both quantities and qualities are ineluctably normal.  Reductionism and analysis are essentially normal.  There is no mind independent nature.  It would be inconceivable.  But are the monster group and big bang normal?  

What does the normality of reason imply about AI?  Normality comes out of thought; but it cannot be put back into it, certainly not in any piecemeal fashion.  Norms like thoughts and language are holistic.  Like functions, they cannot be analyzed.  They are self-referential.  

But what of the BB & MG?  Are they not both MIRs?  How could they not be?  Are they convenient, theoretical fictions?  

The past is a fiction.  I can be effective only through the present.  Time is surely a fiction, especially in its directionality.  All events are fictions, especially in their causal aspect.  But especially is the luminous (specious?) present a fiction.  Consider presence and absence. 

-------------------

Why, historically, was there never a non-prophetic theism, and ever only one of the other?  Rational theism must contend with that history.  How do we rationalize around that singularity?  There are devotional mysticisms like Krishna consciousness, but there is no story or codification.  Historical theism is singular.  The prophetic and historical elements must be inseparable.  Why only one chosen people?  Only one contract?  One savior?  One God of history?  How can full theism be considered rational if it is so rare?  

Consider the subjectivity of presence.  Also of relationality.  But what is reality w/o relations?  Even the concept of the real is subjective and modal.  It implies an unreal.  

If we were so wrong about an MIR, how can we not now be skeptical of God?  It is a question of logic and reason.  We reason to a source. 

Relations are ineluctably normative.  

God is just the ultimate norm and normalizer.  There must either be an ultimate subject of object.  Either God or universe.  God is just the BB of norms.  All Hubble 'norm' shifts point back there.  It is a simple triangulation with norms.  

After the big Norm, then we're off to the BPW and eschaton races.  

How are norms normally deconstructed?  That is not possible with holism.  

--------------------

Non-reductionism.  Any irreducibles would be normative.  These also point to a Source, using the self as a stepping stone. Norms, coherence, relations and self are all inseparable.   Relations are irreducible and immaterial.  

The self is the necessary purveyor of coherence.  Those two functions are inseparable. 

The imminent deconstruction of science.  Ironically it will hinge upon scientific realism.  Can we drop back to instrumentalism and conceptualism?  

The pragmatics of complexity is forcing us to reconsider ontology.  

Why?  From the unreasonable effectiveness of math, to that of science and language.  The notion of progress is problematic as well.  

The incoherence of reductionism.  Science has never been comfortable with it.  

But there are no isolated irreducibles.  Holism reigns there, as well.  There is only functional and telic alignment.  These point to a supra-mundane telos: a source of coherence.  

It may seem like a great stretch, but it could be that the MG is responsible for our psychological projection of the MIR.  It could even be associated with a primordial fear of some kind. 

All the anomalies of materialism are beginning to come into coherence.  We needed to be able to look at the world, modulo atomism.  

 

 

<-- Prev      Next -->

Topical Index

2/1/03