Re: Me against the meme

From: Chris Taylor (
Date: Fri 28 Oct 2005 - 10:39:11 GMT

  • Next message: John Wilkins: "Re: The evolution of "evolution""

    Hooray, new email approved (finally got stopped from using christ from work -- boo...)

    > For humans to be influenced by dinosaurs would be like me having your
    > memory. We have human/hominid/primate/mammalian memory. Dinosaur memory is
    > for the birds. However, any species that evolves into a state similar
    > enough to the dinosaur will fall under its field of influence.
    > You may find this proposition odd, but that's not reason enough to dismiss
    > it. All the way back to Copernicus science has been showing us that nature
    > doesn't agree with our ideas of how it should be. If you feel holistic
    > memory is unscientific, you must explain how it contradicts either itself or
    > established scientific principles.

    No. I offer to you my theory of the almighty jam sandwich, which has no effect on the world whatsoever, but is the original creator of everything and without which all matter would cease to exist. Paging William of Ockham...

    >>>As cell biologist Stephen Rothman points out, if you provide evidence
    >>>reductionism can't provide a coherent explanation (e.g. in the case of
    >>>protein movement) reductionists simply dismiss the evidence as flawed.

    I don't believe anyone claimed that all the evidence was in and the work complete; just that there is not anything that seems outside the scope of things we know to be. What (for the record) did he say was inexplicable? Or is the word _coherent_ rather important there..?

    > Strong micro-reductionism states that the whole has no attributes that
    > aren't in some way traceable back to the parts. In biology this is
    > expressed in terms of genotype-phenotype. Whatever is observable about the
    > organism is derived from information contained in its genes (or the
    > gene/RNA/protein complex).

    There's _nothing wrong with that_ as long as you know what _all_ the parts are. Superdeterminism is similarly dependent on total knowledge but equally unarguable. And anyway, even if you were correct (which I dispute of course) yours would just be one more part of a reductionist model!!!

    And your list is way short. _Organisms_ (well, cells actually) beget organisms (of which nucleotides and proteins are a tiny bit). Add all the other chemistry, environment and
    _structure_(!!!); history (in the sense of all _locally_ stored information).

    >>This is the same kind of anti-science tactic used by the
    >>creationists - identify a healthy disagreement within science and
    >>attempt to twist it to claim that science is crumbling.
    > Part of the confusion here is the precise meaning of science. As Rothman
    > points out, most biologists would regard the phrase "reductionistic science"
    > as redundant. Same goes for "mechanistic science." In their view, science
    > is a process whereby systems are reduced to their parts, and the behavior of
    > these parts is explained according to contact mechanics. Yet by this
    > definition, physics became unscientific with the advent of field theory,
    > according to which the parts are under the influence of the whole at a
    > distance.

    Not true. If it were so redundant why does it persist? It is an analytical technique and flagging it alerts us to its limitations given incomplete knowledge of a whole system. We don't have the compute crunch or rich enough knowledge of parts to do holistic/synthetic/whatever.

    And for the record, 'physics' fields are real, as has been pointed out. They are not invisible.

    >>>Reductionism rests on the common sense notion of contact mechanics
    > between
    >>>visible components. This is not a scientific concept but a deeply
    >>>ingrained, widely distributed habit of thought, i.e. a highly successful

    Okay I see a bee, I think "stripey = bad". Contact?

    >>Reductionism is about cause and effect, that's all.
    > Reductionism is a particular view of causation that promotes one type above
    > all others. This despite the fact that field theory abolished the monopoly
    > of reductionistic causation. In a solar system, it's the whole (the
    > gravitational field) that causes the parts (the sun and planets) to move in
    > their characteristic ways. According to Aristotle, whose four-fold view of
    > causation has never been significantly improved upon, what causes a baby
    > turtle, say, to grow up into an adult turtle is its membership in its
    > species. We might update Aristotle by stating that the embryo is under the
    > field of influence of the species of turtle to which it belongs. To view
    > this as unscientific is to confuse science, the study of causation, with
    > reductionism, the study of reductionistic causation. What defines the
    > reductionism meme is precisely this confusion.

     From where comes the gravitational field's structure? The effect of the system's parts on it.

    And that statement approximating Aristotle is just so vague as to be worthless. Membership of a 'species' also puts you at the end of a line of descent! Pointless.

    >>The Victorians
    >>thought brains were probably like very sophisticated steam engines;
    >>today we liken them to computers. The mechanical analogies are
    >>always going to be rubbish, but that doesn't mean that effects have no
    > Not every effect is the result of an "efficient" cause. For instance, that
    > I'm writing this text results from my goal of communicating a set of
    > insights and not merely the mechanical action of molecules in my brain. To
    > understand my behavior you must regard me in whole and not merely in part.
    > Reductionism can't explain life on its own terms and so replaces life with
    > machine and explains that instead.
    >>>The reductionistic hypothesis is more complex and
    >>>unwieldy insofar as it assumes that genes possess all the information
    >>>required to build an organism and that they possesses the magical power
    >>>to compute precisely how they must combine to bring about this stupendously
    >>>improbable event.

    >>No, enough Hoyle's fallacy! You keep going on about this even though
    >>I keep correcting you. How improbable is it that one person will win
    >>a series of say, 10, coin tosses in a row? See Dennett's "Darwin's
    >>Dangerous Idea" for the answer (given the correct circumstances, it's
    >>100% certain). Try Dawkins "The Blind Watchmaker" while you're at
    >>it. It's only improbable if you have to start from scratch, and
    >>organisms never have to start from scratch.

    > My statement was about development, not evolution. According to the
    > reductionistic theory, the forms and functions of an organism follow from
    > the information contained in genes.

    Nonsense. What makes a cell? Answer that.

    >>>And how does [Aspergillus] remember its billion year ancestral
    >>>history? Is the
    >>>knowledge divided into bits of information stored in its genes?
    >>It doesn't have to "remember". There is no "memory" requiring to be
    >>recalled. Does a motor car have memory of its ancestry from the Ford
    >>Model T?
    > A car is created by an intelligent designer. In this case, the information
    > on how it's to be built is contained in the mechanic, not the mechanism.
    > Alas, we no longer take seriously the notion of a supernatural mechanic who
    > designs and builds the species of life, so we must therefore locate the
    > impetus for the creation of an organism within the organism itself. There
    > are two ways of achieving this. We can claim that the organism is still a
    > mechanism but whose construction occurs blindly, or we can recognize that an
    > organism is merely a particle in a field of influence known as a species,
    > and the genes belonging to that organism, rather than having to build the
    > damn thing from scratch, merely serves to individuate it from others of its
    > kind.

    Who is "building from scratch"?

    I repeat, _what 'makes' a cell_?

    >>>Given that
    >>>the correct sequence of combinations in the timing of penicillin
    >>>production is transcalculational, how can all that information fit?

    >>No, I told you before, that simply is not true.

    > I take it you're not familiar with combinatorics. If you have 1000 genes,
    > each having a wild type and a mutant type (the simplest assumption we can
    > make), then the possible number of ways they can combine is 2 to the 1000th
    > power. Believe it or not, this figure cannot ever be calculated by any
    > conceivable supercomputer in any amount of time.

    (1) Find me a population that has total free recombination between genes (whatever they are -- better off with cistrons tbh). Just for the hell of it...
    (2) _Why_ would you want to calculate it? Populations just bumble along from where they were to where stochastic sampling
    (qualified by selection) takes them (with a tiny trickle of mostly rubbish novelty from mutation).

    The fundamental point is that you aren't trying to find the high-fitness ridges from scratch, _ever ever ever (EVER)_ except in computer sims. Organisms have always been on the ridges since they were tiny creases.

    >>>If you insist on materially mediated transmission-- a metaphysical
    >>>proposition having no relationship to scientific investigation--
    >>No, this is wrong. Basic genetics demonstrates that inheritance is
    >>materially mediated. Genes are material. There's nothing
    >>"metaphysical" about it.
    > This is the fallacy of confusing the particular with the universal. That
    > *some* inheritance is mediated by genes doesn't mean *all* inheritance is
    > mediated by genes. That all inheritance must be materially mediated is a
    > metaphysical proposition. It says something about the nature of reality
    > that not only can't be verified but appears to be contradicted by physics.

    This is just waffly nonsense. What is inherited that can't be explained by what we have more satisfactorily than by invoking your stuff? A list please.

    >>>adaptations arising from the intelligent behavior of creatures cannot be
    >>>passed on, and the only source of adaptation becomes genetic mutation.
    >>Ah, the daily Hoyle's fallacy. I should have expected it. I'll say
    >>it again, just as I've said it in 2 or 3 previous messages. The
    >>source of adaptation is _not_ just mutation, it is mutation plus
    >>selection over a very, very long period of time.
    > But ultimately it's mutation, since selection merely works with the raw
    > material provided by mutation. Selection can amplify a change brought on by
    > genetic mutation, but it can't generate the change in the first place.

    No. Mutation is almost completely irrelevant. It is a miniscule effect over any reasonable timescale. Recombination and
    (de)methylation are the 'responsive modes' of evolution. Mutation has a _barely detectable_ effect.

    >>>evolution becomes a purely mechanical process involving mutation and
    > natural
    >>>selection, leaving no room for will and intelligence, the hallmarks of
    > life.

    I'm sorry -- bacteria -- intelligence and will? Flashy molecular assembly at best. I could do something similar with (a lot of) Lego.

    >>.... which oddly you seem to in any case acknowlege in the next
    >>sentence. Maybe, you're actually starting to understand evolution now,
    >>> evolution becomes a purely mechanical process involving mutation and
    >>> natural selection
    > Note that I wrote "evolution" there, not "adaptation" or "variation." In
    > fact, the conflation of adaptation and variation is a major weakness of
    > reductionist evolution. In our own experience we find that adaptations
    > result far more often from spontaneous discovery than spontaneous variation
    > in the genome. Just as cultural memory allows human adaptations to
    > propagate over time, species memory allows animal adaptations to propagate.

    More waffle. What _evolutionary_ process cannot be explained by the mechanistic stuff?

    >>>Intelligence will find its way back in somehow, if not in the Darwinian
    > way then in the creationist way.

    >>Creationism only flourishes when people are poorly educated about biology.
    > Quite the contrary, creationism flourishes when people are all too aware of
    > the mechanistic claims of biology. If you're going to have a mechanism,
    > shouldn't you have a mechanic? All the machines that ever existed in the
    > history of the world were built through intelligent design.

    Fine. Because humans only see artefacts that have artificers, an uneducated assumption might be that all complex objects must be the result of the actions of a higher order being. We know what we are combatting in the basic predispositions of people, but I thought some of use had moved on from the medieval.

    >>>Instead of God
    >>>creating species, a combination of mutation and selection determines it.
    >>Excellent. Hoyle's fallacy finally gone. Yes, that is how species
    >>originate, you might say it is a single sentence precis of the
    >>"Origin of Species" (perhaps a pedant might demand "variation"
    >>replaces "mutation" in order not to force a Fisherian anachronism on
    > Darwin)
    > Exactly. And for Darwin, the chief source of variation, far outweighing
    > mutation, i.e. "spontaneous variation," is the intelligent adaptations made
    > by creatures in response to environmental conditions. Far better to posit
    > species memory to account for the inheritance of living adaptations than to
    > ditch Darwinian evolution in favor of an inherently implausible,
    > reductionistic alternative.

    Darwin did not believe in Darwinian evolution! He is not a sacred cow, just a bright completer-finisher mostly obsessed with worms and barnacles who was entirely irrelevant to the wider process. This is _not_ a Great Man in the sense that none of this would have happened without him, he was just good at collecting and representing evidence.


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