Re: Me against the meme

From: Dace (
Date: Fri 04 Nov 2005 - 08:57:28 GMT

  • Next message: Derek Gatherer: "Re: Me against the meme"


    > At 22:10 30/10/2005, Dace wrote:
    > >The reality of contact mechanics is verified for me with every
    > >key I strike while composing this post. The assumption is that contact
    > >mechanics accounts for everything under the sun.
    > But I don't assume that. I know that there is a quantum realm at
    > very small scale where different rules have to apply. What I'm
    > saying is that it has been proven in the laboratory, many thousands
    > of times over the last 50 years, that biological processes are
    > mediated by molecules in collision, contact and interaction.

    *Some* biological processes or *all*? The first is fact, the second speculation.

    > That is
    > a scientific fact, and if you deny it, then well eppur si muove as
    > Galileo said.

    Galileo famously severed the realm of quality and consciousness from science. This is all good and well for measuring falling bodies, but what about living bodies? Isn't "life" precisely that element of the organism that can't be reduced to deterministic mechanics? If life is to be studied physically, we must first concede the field-like nature of cell, tissue, organism and species. The ordered activity of a cell takes place at the large-scale, in stark contrast to the pandemonium of its molecular constituents. So reductionism is out. Causation is primarily at the level of the whole and only secondarily a matter of contact mechanics. Moreover, causation is not deterministic but probablistic, as in quantum (wave) fields. The organism will probably follow its habit but not necessarily.
    "Self" enters the picture via the resulting *self-determination.* The ongoing awareness, memory and will of the organism constitute its qualitative consciousness. Since Galileo, the onset of field theory, thermodynamics and quantum mechanics has provided guideposts on the way to a true-to-life science.

    > >You really ought to read Rothman's Lessons from the Living Cell. It may
    > >come as something of a shock.
    > You're just taking a dispute about the level of appropriate level of
    > reductionism and misconstruing it as
    > "reductionism-in-crisis". Creationists often recommend Steve Gould,
    > for similar misplaced reasons.

    This looks an awful lot like a defense mechanism. The only sense of reductionism Rothman accepts is the reduction of a phenomenon to causative factors, whatever they may be, including holistic and probabilistic mechanisms. As to the usual meaning of the term-- that the whole has no properties unattributable to its parts-- Rothman flat-out rejects this. He falsifies the notion that breaking down a process to its underlying components will necessarily explain what it is and how it works. Whether in the sense of a metaphysical truth or a sure-fire methodology, reductionism is a dead letter. Your unwillingness to face this insight is what's triggering your defensive posture.

    > > > According to experimental evidence, the forms and functions of an
    > > > organism follow from
    > > > the information contained in genes.
    > >
    > >Didn't you just say that was a straw man?
    > I meant in terms of embryonic development. Clearly when complex
    > behaviour is involved, it can't be all hard-wired (one reason why we
    > need memetics as a Darwinian but non-genetic theory of human behaviour)

    Clearly. And when I characterized reductionism as you do above, it wasn't a straw-man fallacy. The real fallacy is the implication of *all* when you really mean *some.* Experimental evidence has shown only that some, not all, biological forms and functions follow from genes.

    > >The investigations of the last century have enabled us to understand many
    > >mechanistic functions of the body, including genetic mechanisms. But
    > >cannot by itself establish that organisms are fundamentally mechanical.
    > If you worked in a lab, you'd be convinced that organisms are
    > fundamentally just very flashy machines. Once you roll up your
    > sleeves and really start looking at them, you'd see. Even a year
    > studying the molecular biological literature might convince you, but
    > there's no substitute for actually developing your own autorad and
    > seeing the protein stuck to the DNA right there before your own eyes.

    As long as you're looking for explanations along the lines of contact mechanics, that's all you're going to see. Then, when you find nothing but contact-based mechanisms, you conclude that your initial assumption was right after all. This is begging the question, a very proficient means of propagating irrational beliefs. One might even call it a memetic mechanism.

    > > > If genes "merely serve to individuate" why are there genes involved
    > > > in totally fundamental as pects of development? Even the up-down,
    > > > left-right, front-back polarity of embryos is governed by genes. You
    > > > seem to think it's just a matter of who has blue eyes and who has
    > >
    > >I'll grant this is a problem for my view.
    > It's a fatal flaw.

    The great embryologist Paul Weiss made much use of left-right polarity in his demolition of genetic reductionism (See *The Science of Life* 1973). He pointed out that the ability to reverse the orientation of an organ by simply tweaking a gene demonstrates that the gene functions only in the context of a developmental field. The gene flips the field, so to speak, so the organ emerges in one conformation instead of its mirror opposite. It's all about *influencing* development rather than programming it. Nothing you've ever witnessed in a laboratory can establish the latter as opposed to the former. Your view is based on assumption, not observation.

    > >Nonetheless it's a much smaller
    > >problem than trying to explain evolution without inheritance of
    > >or claiming that development proceeds entirely from "scratch" (a single
    > >cell).
    > But that's why developmental biology is so interesting. In frogs for
    > instance, when the sperm enters the egg, the contact causes the two
    > outermost layers to roll slightly across each other. This brings
    > into proximity two molecules that are apart in the unfertilised
    > egg. They react, and a kick off a cascade of ion channels actions
    > that differentiate the dorsal (back) from the ventral (front) of the
    > egg. Now that's machinery. Everywhere we look we see such
    > things. This is what happens. Eppur si muove.

    Weiss divides organic activity into two domains: mosaic and pattern. While patterns emerge top-down, a mosaic is established once the process has repeated so many times as to become mechanical. Over time pattern yields to mosaic. Plenty of machine-like functions serve the needs of holistic systems.

    > >A theory of life that can explain it on its own terms is by definition
    > >preferable to a theory that explains it through artifice. It's not up to
    > >to demonstrate to you the value of my theory. It's up to you to
    > >the value of yours. Why should I accept your mechanistic theory of life
    > >when I already have an organic one?
    > But standard science does take life on its own terms. If you have to
    > spend 8-15 hours a day studying it (some people are more hooked than
    > others), you have little choice other than to take what you see before

    A biology that takes life on its own terms must begin with the whole and its purpose, not mechanisms and their reactions.

    > >Evidence for the vesicle theory of protein transport. Rothman notes many
    > >examples of unscientific behavior among the proponents of this
    > >reductionistic theory. They speak of the vesicle model as if it were a
    > >description of an actual mechanism rather than what it is-- a speculative
    > [snip]
    > >researchers still refused to admit defeat, because to accept Rohtman's
    > >of direct protein transport would be to recognize that a biological
    > >doesn't necessarily entail an underlying mechanism.
    > Again, your misrepresenting a healthy disagreement about the
    > mechanisms of protein transport as if it constituted grounds to
    > abandon all science.

    Again, what is science? Is it the search for contact-based mechanisms, ala Galilean and Cartesian science, or can it involve all sorts of mechanisms, holistic as much as reductionistic, probabilistic as much as deterministic?

    In his August, 2001 article for Scientific American, "Cybernetic Cells," by W. Wayt Gibbs noted that "three centures of reductionism in biology" was giving way to another approach known as whole-cell simulation. According to James E. Bailey at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, the confused state of microbiology is much like astronomy prior to Kepler, when a great mass of data was available on planetary orbits, but nothing could be predicted. Researchers such as Bailey are generating useful predictions by modeling whole processes in cells rather than the effects of individual components, including genes. No one's accusing Bailey of abandoning science.

    > >Rather, a field effect seems to
    > >be at work. To test this hypothesis, the naturalist Eugene Marais
    > >a steel plate through the middle of a termite mound, preventing any
    > >communication between the separated termites. Nonetheless, termites were
    > >able to build arches that met perfectly on opposite sides of the plate as
    > >it wasn't even there. Termites act more like particles in a field of
    > >influence than separate actors.
    > That was shown long ago to be due to vibration through the
    > plate. The termites could hear each other.

    With or without a steel plate, termites don't rely on hearing to build their arches. This possibility has already been ruled out, as is sight.
    (Termites are blind). This leaves smell as the only sense that could be guiding termite construction. Since the steel plate rules out smell, the only logical approach is to regard the behavior of termites in terms of a developmental field guiding the creation of the mound as a whole (which is essentially a free-standing lung).

    > >More recently, Miroslav Hill demonstrated field effects among bacteria
    > >tested for resistance to a carcinogenic substance. He found that
    > >the exposed bacteria, related bacteria in physically isolated containers
    > >also developed resistance. After repeating the experiment numerous
    > >ensuring absolute separation of the bacterial colonies, he got the same
    > >results. He concluded that the exposed bacteria shared information at a
    > >distance with the unexposed bacteria. Interestingly, Hill chose to
    > >interpret the results in terms of quantum entanglement or nonlocality
    > >than the more traditional field theory.
    > That one is almost certainly contamination.

    Deny the evidence all you want. Eppur si muove.


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