Re: Science and Mechanism

From: Dace (
Date: Sun 15 Jun 2003 - 21:38:42 GMT

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    > From: "Reed Konsler" <>
    > From: "Dace" <>
    > "Hi Reed,"
    > Hi Ted, :-)
    > "As Paul Weiss pointed out many times, organisms are determinant at the
    > macro
    > level and indeterminate at the micro level. This is why biochemists, such
    > as Alfred Gilman, can't predict anything within the simplest of
    > microorganisms, even when they've got a map of all the cell's components
    > interconnections."
    > To say that biochemists can't predict anything is an overstatement.

    The statement is that of a Noble Prize-winning biochemist. And he's right. Biochemistry is a descriptive science, not an explanatory or predictive science.

    > If that
    > were so, there would be few applications for biochemistry. We do not yet
    > know enough to create a synthetic living thing. But, to read your posts,
    > would be led to believe that biochemistry is hopeless. It seems obvious
    > me that it is a powerfully useful perspective.

    Powerfully useful at describing the types of chemicals within cells. Ultimately, a holistic, systems approach will be required to get beyond mere description. Somehow, despite the chaos and the general lack of mechanical or chemical determinism within cells, molecular activities remain well-regulated as long as the cell is alive. It's when cell dies that its constituents behave predictably according to physical principles. The point is that life is essentially holistic, and this is why researchers are moving toward holistic modelling of cells.

    > > Mechanism: A theory must relate causes and effects.
    > "This is impossible at the micro level."
    > Again, you're making an overstatement. The requirement is that the
    > relate causes and effects, not that these be the true causes and effects.

    How could a theory mechanistically relate causes and effects in living cells when they don't behave according to simple, mechanistic determinism until they die?

    "A useful model must suggest a hypothesis that forces the model builder to do an experiment," End says. This one didn't."

    > I think that Endy is saying exactly what I did. He is also admitting that
    > the work he did hasn't yet resulted in a useful theory. That makes him a
    > good scientist. It doesn't mean that his approach will never bear fruit,
    > just that it hasn't yet.

    Right. The article went on to point out that in order to produce useful models, researchers must abandon the notion that organic forms are caused by genes. This is why researchers are questioning the "central dogma." It just doesn't work in the creation of accurate, mathematical models.

    > > Empirical Falsifiablity: A theory must engender experiments or directed
    > > observations.
    > "As the late Stephen Jay Gould observed in *The Structure of Evolutionary
    > Theory,* though Gould himself supported it, reductionistic theory
    > does not pass this test."
    > A theory premised in logic can engender experiments. Gould was, in my
    > opinion, saying that you can't prove evolution is or isn't true. I agree
    > with that. I'm talking about utility.

    Gould didn't claim that evolution can't be proven, simply that the reductionistic, gene-based version of evolutionary theory can't be proven. He pointed out that the originator of this theory, August Weismann, was adament that the theory was untestable and could be assumed simply on the basis that we can't imagine any other theories. Needless to say, lack of imagination is not the most reliable foundation for a theory.

    > "Darwin even pointed to the then-recent development of field theory
    > in electromagnetics as an example of how science can get beyond conceptual
    > logjams through creative, new approaches."
    > I don't understand what you mean by "field theories". Electromagnetics is
    > mechanistic theory (at least, as it was taught to me) that is intimately
    > intertwined with physics, chemistry and the rest of science. It's also
    > reductionist, it that it proposes that macroscopic events are
    > microscopically determined.

    Field theory is absolutely not reductionistic. Fields are spatial, not material. A field cannot be regarded as a fancy way of saying "a collection of particles." The field is simply the spatial aspect of the particle, which is the material aspect of the field. They are one and the same and therefore mutually irreducible.

    As to the idea that macroscopic events are microscopically determined, this has proven totally inadequate at explaining organisms. As Weiss noted in
    *The Science of Life,* organisms are determined at the macroscopic level while being indeterminate at the microscopic level. There's no way of explaining this outside of systems theory.

    > Morphic Resonance is an individual theory. It's fallacious to argue that
    > because it incorporates similar words to accepted theories that it should
    > also be accepted.

    Not only have I not argued that, I haven't even mentioned morphic resonance, which deals with the question of how a system that operates an organism is able to do so according to the norms of its species. As Walter Elsasser pointed out, there seems to be no other explanation than "holistic memory." Rabbit embryos develop into rabbits, and not turtles, because the information that regulates their development is transferred to them from past rabbit embryos. In other words, current embryos "resonate" with past embryos on the basis of "morphic" similarity. This hypothesis is highly testable, and Rupert Sheldrake has had a great deal of success in demonstrating the effect.

    > > Truth is not a factor.
    > "Science (scientia) is Latin for knowledge. Knoweldge means truth. If
    > is not a factor, then science needs to come up with a new name."
    > How do you prove something to be true?

    Hey, who said science is easy? Nonetheless, science has uncovered many truths, such as the fact that the earth revolves around the sun while rotating on its axis. I'd say this has been satisfactorily proven.

    > "You reduce science to a glorified form of engineering."
    > That is your impression. My impression is that you are confusing science
    > with philosophy.

    There's no definitive dividing line between philosophy and science. We may describe philosophy as generalized science and science as particularized philosophy.

    > "Of course. They know plenty more about the mechanics of cell function.
    > what if organic form is not primarily a question of mechanics? In that
    > case, all their progress has brought them no closer to the basis of
    > form."
    > Everything they learn will be totally pointless?

    Not at all. But biochemistry alone can't tell us what life is. We've been led to believe that DNA is the secret or essence of life. James Watson is still promoting this view, and many are happy to believe him. People tend to crave certainty above knowledge and are thus vulnerable to memes that exploit this tendancy.

    > "The next step after this is to
    > recognize that a holistic view doesn't necessarily mean mathematical
    > idealism. The "fields" or "systems" determining organic structure might
    > result from inherent memory rather than timeless equation. This is more
    > accord with evolution, as equations don't evolve."
    > But that recognition won't ever happen if there isn't a material reason to
    > make it.

    The material reason is that a holistic theory must be compatible with evolution. As long as they're based on inherent memory rather than timeless equations, fields can evolve right along with the organisms they both reflect and regulate.

    > > "We're witnessing a grand-scale Kuhnian revolution in biology,"
    > > avers Bernhard O. Palsson, head of the genetic circuits research
    > > group at UC San Diego.
    > >
    > > "We are so going to get laid by those chicks" avers Sean,
    > > self-proclaimed 'ladies man' of the Druid pub in Inman Square.
    > "It should bother you that Palsson is a highly respected researcher. That
    > you don't find his statement the least big significant suggests you're
    > beholden to a deeply ingrained meme."
    > Fallacy: argument from authority.

    I see no reason why we can't cite authority figures, as long as we understand that this doesn't, by itself, constitute proof. But it can certainly strengthen an already sound argument. I'm well aware that authority figures often get things wrong.

    > His statement appears self-interested; designed to sell people on his
    > and research.

    Now this is a fallacy, as it's directed at the person rather than the argument.

    > Many other respected scientists disagree with him.

    I wouldn't doubt it.


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