Re: _Religion Explained_ by Pascal Boyer

From: Dace (
Date: Mon 09 Jun 2003 - 17:31:40 GMT

  • Next message: Dace: "Re: _Religion Explained_ by Pascal Boyer"

    > From: Keith Henson <>
    > > > > > Which would you say applies to a person who has internalized the
    > > > > > baseball meme and knows how to play it?
    > > > >
    > > > >If you grow up in the USA, baseball is a meme. If you grow up in a
    > > > >foreign country, it's an idea.
    > > >
    > > > People have enough trouble trying to grasp the meme about memes.
    > > > meme or not meme dependant on who hold them and how is just over the
    > >
    > >The simplest answer is not always the right answer. What if you're
    > >What good is a simple explanation if it's the wrong explanation?
    > A definition is just that. Not an answer, not an explanation. The
    > definition most researchers/writers in the field use is 1) most congruent
    > with the common features of genes and computer viruses 2) simple 3) leads
    > to predictions that are not (to my knowledge) violated.

    An incorrect definition, no matter how simple, is not only unhelpful but downright harmful.

    > > > It is generally considered that the original pole of the egg is
    > > > by an external factor. Morphogenesis is now thought to rely on
    > > > gradients, which sequentially (head to tail, front to back) activated
    > > > regulator genes.
    > >
    > >Coen goes into a lot of detail on this, but even he agrees this is not a
    > >final answer. What, then, determines the chemical gradients?
    > Ultimately geometry. Any point on a sphere (the egg) identifies an
    > axis. The body plan, head to tail is along that axis. Cells at the point
    > produce the first gradient chemical, diffusion establishes the
    > gradient. One other point on the equator, even a random point, is enough
    > to produce the left/right and back to front axes.

    Interesting response. That geometry ultimately determines bodily form is precisely why Paul Weiss (and others) proposed the concept of morphogenetic fields. The whole point of a field is that it's spatial rather than material. The question is whether the field is reducible to genes or if it exists in the same sense that quantum or electromagnetic fields exist. If morphogenetic fields are real, the question becomes whether they are produced by timeless "generative equations" (Goodwin) or if they result from the influence of past, similar organic forms (Sheldrake). This is how the issue looks right now.

    > Sample articles
    > Reference: Scientific American February 1994 PAGES 58-66
    > Articles Name- The Molecular Architects of Body Design.
    > By William McGinnis and Michael Kuziora
    > Jest of Article- Putting a human gene into a fly may sound like the basis
    > for a science fiction film, but it demonstrates that nearly identical
    > molecular mechanisms define body shapes in all animals.

    If the molecular mechanisms are the same, and the organisms are radically different, doesn't that demonstrate that organisms are not a product of molecular mechanisms? This is a huge problem for the mechanistic theory of life.

    > >This is not as off-topic as you might think. As an engineer, you're
    > >predisposed to think about things in terms of mechanics. I'm having
    > >getting you to understand organic development due to interference from
    > >machine meme. In other words, a meme which has *replicated* in your mind
    > >is preventing a simple piece of nonmemetic information from being *re-
    > >created* in your mind on the basis of your cognitive capacities.
    > At the root of it, you are attracted to a world with magic. I not only
    > understand that, but I can trace out (with Pascal Boyer's help) why human
    > minds were shaped by evolution in a way that makes such propensities
    > common. There is no magic and I regret that. (My mind--no less than
    > yours--was shaped to find magic attractive.)
    > Still, there is no doubt in my mind (or anyone else who is well grounded
    > the sciences) that the universe is based ultimately on physics and the
    > chemistry of matter.

    This is simply not the case. I'm not the only person well grounded in the sciences who rejects the reductionist view. The holistic view is not based on a predilection for magical thinking but a recognition of the facts.

    > That does not keep the universe from being vastly complicated and
    > interesting. Simple math generates the bewildering complexity of the
    > Mandelbrot. Simple chemistry and evolution has generated a vast and
    > fascinating biology--one consequence of which leads to topic of this
    > mailing list.
    > The root of biology, DNA and proteins, *is* mechanical as anyone who has
    > followed developments in this area over the last 50 years should know. (I
    > started reading Scientific American almost 50 years ago.) One of the
    > enzymes for making ATP is known (by direct observation) to rotate.

    The mechanics of protein-formation are still not known, and it's not at all clear that protein-formation, particularly at the quaternary level, is forced into place by purely chemical and mechanical factors. Keep in mind that organisms, at the molecular level, are highly chaotic. Molecular structures are in continual flux. They are constantly being torn down and rebuilt, and the result is always completely novel. Even identical twins bear no relation to each other at the molecular level. Life follows the principle of microindeterminacy coupled with macrodeterminacy (in the words of Paul Weiss). While the activities of molecules in cells are indeterminate and unpredictable, higher levels of structure are determined in accord with standard patterns. We see this in embryonic development. The first discernible form to appear in the embryo beyond the cell is not tissues but the whole body plan. Following this, the embryo develops the beginnings of circulatory, nervous, immune and organ systems. These outlines are then filled in with organs, but even these exist, at first, only as outlines. Finally, organs and limbs are "fleshed out" with tissues. If genes build bodies, they should do so step-by-step from the level of tissues on up. The actual picture is precisely the opposite. Reduction to the molecular level could not be a more inappropriate and misleading model for organisms.

    Science is all about generating results that can be replicated. The problem is that molecular structures in cells are totally novel and cannot be replicated. So biologists tend to simply ignore the chaotic reality of life at the molecular level, and the result is that the general public gets the impression that cells are like factories, with machine-like repeatability of its basic operations. Nothing could be further from the truth.


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