Science as Idea & Meme

From: Reed Konsler (
Date: Tue 17 Jun 2003 - 13:10:44 GMT

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    Science as Idea & Meme From: Dace ( Date: Mon 16 Jun 2003 - 22:17:37 GMT

    "...yet it was a biochemist who expressed it. The key phrase is "at least at some level of detail." Cells are not without mechanisms that predictably perform a given task. But as Paul Weiss points out, every causal chain has a terminus, a point beyond which no further analysis is possible."

    Sounds reasonable

    "A true causal chain can be traced all the way back to its source."

    If you mean "it must trace it's predictions to it's axioms" that makes sense. But, if you're demanding that a causal chain must link everything from the infinitesimal to the infinite, that's an unreasonable restriction.

    "Between the alleged source, DNA, and its alleged effects in the cell lies a sea of indeterminate micromolecular processes."

    Do you mean "statistical" when you're saying "indeterminate"? If so, I think you should say "statistical" or "probabilistic". Such things are not indeterminate. The dynamics of a coin flipping in the air are two complex for all the factors to be entered into a computer that would spit out the prediction of each flip. And yet, I can predict, determine if you will, that about 50% of the time it will land heads up.

    [DNA] is then reduced to the role of member and participant in a patterned macrodetermined operation, in which its separate track gets lost... even if microprecisely programmed chain reactions were set off in separate linear tracks as "determiners" for organized end products, their aim would get blurred on the way in the trackless stretches of the network of systemic anastomoses.

    Of course. I fell like you aren't listening to me. No biochemist I've ever spoken with describes a cell like a car engine. A cell is far more complex. One cannot precisely predict what happens inside based on an understanding simply of the chemical reactions. No argument.

    However, this does not disprove the following theory:

    Every change in microstate follows a physical law. The accumulation of changes in microstates results in a change in macrostate.

    In the passage, Weiss argues that one cannot make absolute predictions about microevents in the cell because there are many processes which, like coin flips, appear random. Since these factors cannot be controlled, any model based on an understanding of some microstates is deficient.


    Just because the effects of microchanges are "blurred" by probabilistic interconnections, there is no reason to believe that another "force" is acting as an overall guiding principle. Weiss does not argue for such a force.

    My interpretation of the passage is this: There is no one to one direct correspondence between genotype and phenotype. How very obvious.

    It is you, Ted, that is insisting that there must be an overall principle that guides the process. Your argument is something like this: A tree begets another tree. Therefore, something must make the new tree like the former tree. It can't be genes because I can't predict that the tree would form even if I knew all the individual mechanisms of the cell.

    The error is that you assume that because *a human*cannot predict with precision what is going on that *the tree* cannot be following simple deterministic rules. The rules might only *appear* probabilistic because they are effectively incalculable.

    Incalculable, yes. But still finite. Still, potentially, mechanistic. Because one can't calculate it doesn't mean it isn't so. As you pointed out, human comprehension isn't a limit on reality.

    This is why, as scientists, we have to chuck the idea of "truth". We cannot ever comprehend reality because reality is incalculably complex. Instead, we create simple ("reductionist") models that take as much information into account as we can reasonably access. We use the models to make predictions with the knowledge that these predictions are educated guesses, not inevitable outcomes.

    We rate these models based on the criteria I presented before.

    But always, always, always...we must keep in mind that what goes on inside our heads is simply a hopelessly deficient model of what is going on in the outside world. It is not "true". It is not "real". The universe is large and our brains are small.

    "Systems theory is precisely the effort to get beyond our dogmatic attachment to genetic reductionism."

    Systems theory is a broad discipline. It's a useful model.

    "I mean that outcomes are not generally necessitated by physical principles."

    > I believe that they do behave according to laws, to the extent that
    > in the universe does. I wouldn't call it simple, though.

    "So you're not just a nose-to-the-grindstone pragmatist. You do have beliefs, and these beliefs are not based on known facts."

    Present evidence supports the theory that cells behave according to laws, to the extent that anything in the universe does. I can't say that it's based on "known facts" because there are no such things. There is only evidence: a deficient interpretation I make based on what limited experience of the universe I have.



    Main Entry: 1ev·i·dence Function: noun Date: 14th century 1 a : an outward sign : INDICATION b : something that furnishes proof : TESTIMONY; specifically : something legally submitted to a tribunal to ascertain the truth of a matter 2 : one who bears witness; especially : one who voluntarily confesses a crime and testifies for the prosecution against his accomplices

    Note that in the definition "truth" is being defined in a legal context.

    "It's easy enough to explain what happens in cells after they die in accord with physical principles."

    No it isn't.

    "It's the inability to do so in regard to living cells that defines them as living."

    No. Everything unpredictable isn't alive.

    "Ultimately, you can't understand the organism by killing it. It must be taken on its own terms."

    I agree. I'm not sure how this applies to the conversation.

    "Sheldrake's theory could just as easily be known as "morphic mechanics"
    ...The mechanism by which morphic information is transfered is similarity to previous organic forms (which can only be holistic)."

    That isn't a mechanism. A mechanism is an explanation of how previous organic forms transfer "morphic information" to their progeny. How does it happen? If by "holistic" you are trying to say the question can't be answered, fine. You have not proposed a theory. You haven't given me anything to investigate. Such a theory doesn't allow me to do or make doesn't give me any power.

    But, even if you are searching for "truth", I would propose it's a threadbare sort of truth that is simply an answer to "what happens" as opposed to "how and why it happens"?

    According to "Cybernetic Cells" (W. Wayt Gibbs, Aug 2001 Scientific American, page 54), "the past few years have seen a growing movement among mathematically minded biologists to challenge the central dogma as simplistic and to use computer simulation to search for a more powerful theory."

    I think this establishes my point: scientists are in search of more powerful theories.

    "In other words we won't have a useful, i.e. "powerful", explanatory model until we develop one that doesn't reduce cellular regulation to genes."

    1) Biochemistry doesn't do this. 2) I can only use the tools that are available. 3) Until a tool is tested, all you can do is develop it and advertise.

    "Do you mean utility at generating reliable predictions? Endy and Yin failed to predict whether a given virus would develop resistance to RNA-based therapies. Why? Because their model assumed simple, genetic causality."

    Maybe it was simply too deficient to predict the outcome. Just because it was based on everything we know doesn't mean that an identical approach fifty years from now won't be successful.

    "Their next model won't include that assumption."

    You work in the research group?

    "That a magnetic field cannot be reduced to a magnet is demonstrated by the fact that the field cannot be divided into two discrete halves, even when the magnet it's associated with is cut in half. Instead of two halves of a magnetic field, you get one whole field for each half of the magnet.

    Same goes for quantum theory. An electron can be viewed as either a "wave" or a "particle." These are simply different ways of looking at the electron, one from the spatial point of view, the other from the material point of view. Neither is reducible to the other; both merely describe the electron in different ways."

    I agree. I'm not sure how this is relevant to the conversation.

    "It allows us to make predictions, such as the fact that members of a given species will perform better at a given task if many other members of that species have already successfully performed it. Read *The Presence of the Past* for details of numerous experiments, from a wide variety of fields, that demonstrate this effect."

    Give me an example.

    >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're mistaken. Present evidence is consistent with that theory. Nothing
    > in science is ever proven.

    "For all intents and purposes it's a proven fact. Don't go philosophical on me."

    [shrug] I also firmly believe it to be the case. I think the word "fact" blinds us to the consciousness that all knowledge is a deficient model of reality. It's that kind of absolutist thinking that makes one pointlessly pursue "truth" and restrict oneself to a single interpretation of observations. I prefer a little more flexibility.

    "Biochemistry cannot help us understand life until it develops a model that doesn't depend on genetic reductionism."

    I understand life much better knowing about genetics that I did before.

    "Science, the idea that we can obtain knowledge of nature, has been corrupted into the memetic idea that we can obtain data that allows us to
    *manipulate* nature."

    That is your opinion

    "Unlike the original idea, which resulted from reasoned reflection on the part of early scientists (and continues to be renewed by many contemporary scientists), the meme is perpetuated precisely through a *lack* of reflection as it replicates from mind to mind. That science is a blind mechanism churning out technological applications, i.e. "machine science," is a deeply ingrained culturally-shared habit of thought bearing no relation to reality and which is perpetuated strictly through its own momentum-- much like a personal habit-- rather than by appeal to reason."

    That doesn't make complete sense to me, but I think I get your point.

    I'll agree with that except for the "unlike the original idea" part. When the desired outcome is "truth" this outcome isn't questioned. In that sense, it is an unreflected habit perpetuated through it's own momentum rather than an appeal to reason. That kind of science is a blind mechanism churning out "facts" and "truth" as much as "machine science" blindly churns out technological applications.

    Turn your nose up if you like. Your grail quest is no more pure.



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