Re: Science as Idea & Meme

From: Dace (
Date: Thu 19 Jun 2003 - 04:16:34 GMT

  • Next message: Dace: "Re: Science as Idea & Meme (cont'd)"

    > From: "Reed Konsler" <>
    > Ted:
    > "I mean that a causal chain ought to link morphology to gene-protein
    > interactions in the nucleus. That this has never been done ought to raise
    > the red flag on reductionism."
    > You are making a statement that, in my opinion, is completely contrary to
    > the experience of most scientists.
    > Example:
    > =======
    > Quoted from the Jackson Laboratory Catalog:
    > 02637
    > Gene Details:
    > Symbol Adra1b
    > Symbol Name adrenergic receptor, alpha 1b
    > Chromosome 11
    > Common Name(s) [a]1b; alpha1B-adrenergic receptor;
    > Strain Description
    > Mice carrying the CAMalpha1b transgene display stable myocardial specific
    > hypertrophy with ensuing markers of hypertrophy being elevated. In
    > alpha 1 adrenergic receptor signaling through the Gq-phospholipase
    > C-protein kinase C signaling pathway is enhanced.
    > =======
    > I interpret it: When a normal mouse zygote (the single cell organisms
    > from) has a foreign gene (CAMalpha1b) inserted into chromosome 11, the
    > result is that during development that mouse's heart, specifically, grows
    > far larger than would be expected ("stable myocardial specific


    > In other words, a change in morphology can be traced to the presence of a
    > single gene.
    > Furthermore, once the gene is inserted, the alteration in phenotype is
    > inherited.

    Look closely at the preceding statements. In the first one you employ the term, "morphology." In the second statement you switch it to "phenotype." Now these terms are in no way interchangeable. Morphology refers to, for instance, the structure of the heart, while phenotype refers to variations that occur in the heart from one individual to another. What the above experiment refers to is a phenotypic characteristic and must not be confused with the overall morphology of the system being modified. Weiss suggests that this habitual error in thinking may have originated in a simple semantic confusion. *The Science of Life,* pp 61-62:

    I sense that the thesis of a genetic monopoly [over developmental information] is rooted in a semantic ambiguity, namely, the emphasis on characters (plural) in contradistinction to character (singular), the former referring to separate criteria or marks of an entity (e.g., green; pointed; sluggish; forked; etc.); the latter, to the whole ensemble of properties of an entity (e.g., personality; the quality of form; adaptability; etc.). One can readily understand how this has led to the illusion that character is nothing more than a bunch of characters. An individual thus had to appear to genetic analysis not as a subject, but as a conglomerate of attributes. Thus one identified, for example, genes bearing on black vs. blond hair and called them, for short, genes for "black" or "blond" (but then, what is hair?); or similarly, in the eye, genes for "blue" vs. "brown" (what is an eye?); for harelip vs. unsplit lip (what is a lip?); for color vision vs. color blindness (what is vision?); and so forth. What one had actually established was a correlation between gene differences on the one hand and
    *differences* between entities on the other. Yet, shorthand usage gradually abstracted the differential attributes from their substrata, keeping the characters "black," "blue," and "split" in view, while forgetting about their carriers; i.e., hair, eye, and lip, perhaps in the expectation that they will likewise in the end prove decomposable into a collection of attributes; but attributes of what?

    The idea of genes is that genes produce differences between individuals. The meme of genes is that genes produce the individuals themselves as well as differentiating them. The first is transmitted through rational inquiry; the second follows from its own culturally-ingrained force of habit.

    That genes provide not only the variations on the theme but the theme itself can be regarded as a throwback to Platonic thinking. Pg 10:

    Scientists familiar with the facts... do acknowledge the wide variation left to an organism in executing the "genetic blueprint" encoded in the germ cell, and they express that knowledge in the distinction between "genotype" and "phenotype"; the former referring to the primordial genic endowment of a given individual; the latter, to what the individual actually turns out to be. The distinction used to carry an undertone of strictly preformationist thinking, as if the "genotype" were the true ideal type in the Platonic sense, while the "phenotype" represented its corrupted realization.... some residue of the old preformistic purism has lingered on, and the description of any terminal "character" of an organism as "genetically determined" is clearly of that old tradition.

    Few people realize that the transition from premodern thought and the scientific age represents a repudiation of Aristotle in favor of Plato. Galileo, Descartes, Newton... all were essentially Platonic in their reliance on mathematics as a route to revealed truth. Alongside this trend has been an equally powerful trend emphasizing material reductionism. Weismannian biology (also known as ultra or neo-Darwinism) has been so successful because it hides the Platonic basis of the theory underneath a sheen of molecular determinism. This is what makes it so memetically powerful. It appeals to our unconscious attraction to mathematical idealism while catering, on the surface, to our empirical pretensions.

    > That is, in my opinion, pretty damn direct. I might not be able to tell
    > (yet) how every probablistic biochemical step leads to the macroscopic
    > effect. I can tell you with statistical *certainty*, however, that mice
    > incorporating that specific gene in that specific location will develop
    > significantly larger hearts.
    > This is my challenge:
    > Provide an alternative theory that explains the observations:
    > 1) mouse without gene => normal heart
    > 2) mouse with gene => abnormally large heart
    > 3) progeny of transgenic mouse => both gene and abnormally large heart

    This is no way contradicts holistic theory. Genes clearly individuate members of a given species. My challenge to you is to explain why we should also believe that genes produce the underlying pattern of development. As Weiss says, genetic determinism is like proposing that "separate magnetic needles could ever orient themselves in a common direction without the guidance of an outer magnetic field." (p 15)

    > Weiss
    > "A macroevent can be fully determinate in the sense that, given the
    > premises, we can predict the general outcome, the confidence of our
    > prediction resting on the infallibility of countless earlier experiences;
    > yet at the same time, the component microevents involved might take
    > that are in detail absolutely unpredictable and unique..."
    > Ted, I have no argument with Weiss. I think you're misinterpreting him.
    > individual microevent is not indeterminate, it's simply incalculably
    > complex. That is what Weiss is saying by "unpredictable and unique".

    No, that's not what he's saying. Pp 19-20:

    The Boltzmann theorem and thermodynamics... relate unequivocally the average state of a system at time t1 to its average state at time t2, but realize that tracing an individual molecule through that course is not only unfeasible but would be scientifically uninteresting and inconsequential: it would in each individual instance and instant be of nonrecurrent uniqueness, hence valueless for any detailed predictability of future microevents. If physics has had the sense of realism to divorce itself from microdeterminism on the molecular level, there seems to be no reason why the life sciences, faced with the fundamental similitude between the arguments for the reunciation of molecular microdeterminacy in both termodynamics and systems dynamics, should not follow suit and adopt macrodeterminacy regardless of whether or not the behavior of a system as a whole is reducible to a stereotyped performance by a fixed array of pre-programmed microrobots. Since experience has positively shown such unequivocal macrorelations to exist on various supramolecular levels of the hierarchy of living processes in the documented absence of componental microdeterminacy, we evidently must let such positive scientific insights prevail over sheer conjectures and preconceptions, however cherished and ingrained in our traditional thinking they may be [i.e. memetic].

    Physics long since abandoned microdeterminism, not merely at the quantum level (quantum indeterminacy) but at the atomic and molecular levels. It's not simply a question of the "unfeasibility" of tracking a given molecule but that it's "scientifically uninteresting and inconsequential." Why? Because each particular event posesses "nonrecurrent uniqueness" and thus cannot help us predict future micro-events.

    Keep in mind that we can always posit a causal chain after-the-fact. We can always point to one event preceding another and claim that it must therefore have caused it, though the same preceding event could just as easily have been followed many other possibilities. That no event disobeys physics doesn't mean that physics determines everything.

    According to Weiss, the main flaw in the deterministic outlook is to equate science with the doctrine of "microprecise causality." In reality determinism applies only to macroscopic phenomena. Since the body is determinate at the macro level while being, by necessity, indeterminate at the micro level, we must conclude that "the system as a whole coordinates the activities of its constituents." (p 19)


    =============================================================== This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing) see:

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Thu 19 Jun 2003 - 04:25:34 GMT