Re: Science as Idea & Meme

From: Reed Konsler (
Date: Thu 19 Jun 2003 - 13:02:30 GMT

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    >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: 1 a : a branch of biology that deals with the form and structure of animals and plants b : the form and structure of an organism or any of its parts 3 a : a study of structure or form b : STRUCTURE, FORM

    :the visible properties of an organism that are produced by the interaction of the genotype and the environment


    The two words are not identical, but they are interchangable given two restrictions: 1) The "visible properties" being studied are "the form and structure" of the organism in part or whole. This doesn't seem to be such a strech. 2) One assumes that the "the form and structure" are "produced by an interaction" with the genotype. Even presuming that genes don't control phenotype, I think you would have to admit that the genes are at least
    "interacting" with the environment.

    >"...a phenotypic characteristic...must not be confused with the overall
    morphology of the system being modified..."<

    Who does that? I was just offereing an example of how a single gene can change morphology. Nobody I know thinks that *every* characteristic is the result of a single gene. Saying that the phenotype is a result of the geneotype isn't demanding a one-to-one correspondence.

    "...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"...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?"

    Attributes of the individual cells that make up the anotomical "carrier" which are, in turn, understandable in terms of attributes of the individual chemicals that make up the cells which are in turn...

    Or was that a rhetorical question?

    >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.<

    Very few memes perpetuate through rational inquiry. But, in any event, who argues that genes "produce" the individuals? As I understand it, genetics proposes that genes *direct* the development of individuals.

    >...the theme itself can be regarded as a throwback to Platonic thinking.<

    OK. No one is affirming this straw man you've been thrashing, so I don't see how refuting it is relevant to the discussion.

    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.

    That's interesting. Personally, I don't think that a phenotype is in some way "corrupted" but I suppose that someone might. I'm not certian in this case who Weiss is writing to, himself or me. In any event, I don't know any biochemists that would argue with the idea that events in the environment lead to different ultimate outcomes. I'm not certian how that supports a theory like morphic resonance, though.

    >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.<

    One of the proposals of memetics is that ideas spread becasue they are appealing, not useful or true. Utility and "truth" are orthogonal to, not the opposite of, appealing.

    Fiat that an idea spreads based on appeal. That idea may be useful. It also (if you must) be "true". I think you're making a false dichotomy.

    >...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)...<

    I think a magnetic field is a very poor analogy. You yourself have argued that living things cannot be understood in terms of "simple" ideas like chemistry. Making the leap from anatomy to magnetism is a pretty serious reduction. Not that you can't make such an argument, but it seems like you'll accept it when it is convenient and criticise others for using the same strategy. I think that's hypocritical.

    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.<<<

    Absolutely in paradigm.

    >>>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...<<<

    Physicists don't adopt "macrodeterminancy" except when it is the most useful strategy to explain their observations. They usually do so under circumstances where they are trying to explain something larger still. When, in physics, one *is* observing small numbers of particles then one
    *does* adopt a model that attepts to trace the individuals. Furthermore, according to the physics I understand, macroscopic observations are the result of microscopic events. Again, Weiss is stating that the connection is incalculably complex...not indeterminate. He makes no argument that there is some disjoint between the microscopic and macroscopic, simply that you cannot predict the outcome with exact precision.

    >>>...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.<<<

    An admission that it may be?

    >>>...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]...<<<

    OK. Fiat this philosophical point. Are you asking scientists, as a whole, to abandon a useful model in a favor of a poorly developed, untested one? I encourage the mavericks, for they will be the authors of tomorrow's paradigm. But, I can't know a priori who will be successful. Wiess himself argues that conjecture is an inappropriate measure of worth. I argue that utility is.

    >Physics long since abandoned microdeterminism, not merely at the quantum
    level (quantum indeterminacy) but at the atomic and molecular levels.<

    I don't know where you get this idea. I spent years in grad school at Harvard discussing the reaction mechanisms for individual molecules and was successful at predicting the outcome of novel reactions on a "macroscopic" level. In other words, I drew pictures of individual reactions on the board and then made macroscopic amounts of product based on those predictions.
    "Microdeterminancy" was *the* useful theory, certianly not abandoned. I also discovered novel reactions and then investigated their reaction mechanism. Then I used that understanding to develop new reactions. All the while I was assuming that all the molecules did what I thought a single one would do. We were able to get 90% + yields, which (statistically) is pretty good. Who cares if it was true? It worked.

    >>>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.<<<

    I think that's incorrect.

    >>>That no event disobeys physics doesn't mean that physics determines

    Perhaps. But, given that situation, if I *assume that it does* my predictions will be pretty accurate. That is what is meant by a Scientific Law. Such Law is not a restriction on the universe, it's a statement that if you*assume that is* you will seldom be wrong.

    Do you want to go back and claim that an individual event can disobey physical law? Otherwise, I'm not sure where you are going.

    >...we must conclude that "the system as a whole coordinates the activities
    of its constituents."<<<

    Who argues? The question is, how best to explain HOW the system does this. To explain HOW you need to develop the theory into more specific entities, or else you are just being circular.



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