Re: Me against the meme

From: Dace (
Date: Mon 07 Nov 2005 - 23:14:41 GMT

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

    > At 08:57 04/11/2005, Dace wrote:
    > > 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
    > "God of the gaps" argument again. No matter how far science advances,
    you'll > always jump in and say "but you can't explain X". 20 years later, when X has
    > been explained, it'll be Y and so on ad nauseam.

    As I've already pointed out, we're not talking about a gap here. We're talking, literally, about the *whole* picture. Even regarding a single cell, you can't explain the whole, only bits and pieces, wherever a mechanical process happens to take place within it. You can't explain how the order of a cell follows from the order of its components. You've never been able to explain this, and you never will. No progress will ever be made toward explaining this for the very simple reason that the components of a cell are not ordered. Thus the task is to explain how a cell maintains order in the large despite disorder in the small. Reductionistic biology is asking the wrong question.

    One can always move the goalposts when a favored theory is cast into doubt. Every time Rothman proved that an aspect of the vesicle theory of protein transport was wrong, vesicle proponents simply claimed that current methods of analysis, which they themselves had relied on up till then, were inadequate to establish the truth one way or the other. If the evidence shows they're right, reductionists assume the evidence is legitimate. If the evidence shows they're wrong, they assume the samples have been contaminated. They feel justified in doing this because they already know they're right in advance of any and all evidence. There *must* be an underlying mechanism accounting for every process in the body. This is no different than a creationist saying there *must* be a transcendent design underlying every process in the body. Both dogmatic views are branches of mechanistic theory, one with and one without a Mechanic.

    > >Isn't "life" precisely that element of the organism
    > >that can't be reduced to deterministic mechanics?
    > No, that's a frank statement of vitalist philosophy, a la Henri Bergson.

    Not in the least. To approach the organism as a whole, instead of merely an assemblage of mechanical pieces, is not to endow the organism with a vital force but simply to recognize that it exists in whole, that it has properties unattributable to its parts and that it has causal efficacy. The whole is not an extraneous element added on to the parts but merely a different perspective on the organism, one that takes the organism on its own terms instead of ours.

    When you start with the whole, you have no need of a vital force. It's only when you break the organism down to its machine-like functions that you must somehow account for the fact that it's not really a machine after all but lives and may even possess consciousness. After loudly and conspicuously excising the vital force from the organism, reductionism sneaks it back in as the genetic program, which mysteriously endows the organism with its living form.

    > >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.
    > Ah, I see I'm getting somewhere with you, Ted. A couple of weeks ago, you
    > would have said contact mechanics has nothing to do with it at all.

    Absolutely not. I've never disputed the existence of mechanistic functions within the organism, only the proposition that it can be characterized strictly in terms of those functions. Mechanisms are necessary for an organism but not sufficient.

    > >The only sense of
    > >reductionism Rothman accepts is the reduction of a phenomenon to
    > >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.
    > But that was rejected in the 1950s by the majority of biologists (if
    indeed it was
    > every seriously entertained at all). Nothing new there.

    You've conceded everything. If the organism is irreducible to its parts, then it's not a machine, and we need not limit ourselves to mechanistic thinking. We can posit that the mind is the brain taken as a whole, encompassing all the neurons and influencing their behavior. We can posit that the species is the mind that unites all the creatures belonging to it and influences their development, freeing up DNA to distinguish individuals within a common template rather than having to mechanically construct each one from scratch. We can posit that wholeness or mindedness is immaterial and therefore not bounded by the materialist demarcation of present and past. Hence past is also present, and past adaptations can be taken up by current organisms.

    > >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
    > >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
    > If you see something hit something else, bind to it, and change the shape
    of its
    > target, and that target then performs some consequent mechanism on another
    > target etc, then that isn't irrational, that's hard evidence.

    This is a common theme of yours, suggesting that your belief in contact mechanics as the prime mover of life follows from your immersion into the world of mechanistic research. There's a definite cult-like element to your analysis. You've been inducted into an elitist brotherhood with an initiation rite-- the dissection of the organism and the isolation of mechanisms within it-- and a set of beliefs that cannot be questioned without causing your expulsion. The cult is defined by its opposition to what it regards as evil, in this case, creationism. Anyone who questions the core beliefs of the cult is associated with creationism and becomes taboo along with it. I've been called a creationist over and over again despite the fact that I could hardly be more vocal in my support of evolutionary doctrine. Experiments on organic tissues designed to identify underlying mechanisms of behavior bring to mind the ancient practice of divination, whereby a priest slaughters an animal and extracts an organ from it and studies this organ in order to "divine" the answer to a question of great importance. As Rothman demonstrates, much of the research carried on today tells us nothing at all of how an organism works but simply serves to reinforce our mechanistic prejudice. The new priesthood wears white lab coats instead of black robes. And while much current research is perfectly rational and does actually illuminate the workings of life, the divination meme continues operating just underneath the conscious surface, as if the discovery of this or that mechanism divines the fundamental nature of the organism.

    > I initially assumed that a
    > train was going to take me in to work today. One arrived and it did. I
    look for no
    > other explanation of how I got here. It's the same in the test tube.

    Watch out for those mechanistic analogies. They're wrong not just in the banal sense that they're only analogies but that they're *bad* analogies. Not only do they produce a false picture of life, they lead to creationist thinking, which invokes the transcendent Mechanic who builds species just as human mechanics build engines.

    To take another analogy, that we drive around in cars doesn't mean vesicles are cars that open up to allow proteins to enter, close tight for transport, and then open up again when they arrive at their destination so that the proteins can exit. Like vesicle theory, reductionistic biology in general is a hallucinatory projection of the modern, clockwork world onto the wholly alien realm of biological order.

    > >The great embryologist Paul Weiss made much use of left-right polarity in
    > >his demolition of genetic reductionism (See *The Science of Life* 1973).
    > Ahem, 1973? One of your repeated problems, Ted, is you tendency to read
    > accounts of dev. biol.

    Nothing has changed in the last three decades. We still have no evidence that any organ in the body can be reduced, piece by piece, to genetic instructions, only that a holistic system can be genetically tweaked to flip on its axis. One of your repeated problems is to think that all the answers are in the latest laboratory findings. This is a function of your membership in the white-frocked reductionist cult. Sometimes you have to step back and think a little to find the answer.

    > >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,
    > >the organ emerges in one conformation instead of its mirror opposite.
    > >all about *influencing* development rather than programming it. Nothing
    > >you've ever witnessed in a laboratory can establish the latter as opposed
    > >the former. Your view is based on assumption, not observation.
    > No, again it's more fundamental. The genes controlling left-right are
    > very early on, and the pathways are now fairly well understood, at the
    > mechanical level.

    This doesn't contradict my statement. The mechanical function of genes, rather than setting up the mechanical construction of organs, merely alters a trait possessed by them, such as left-right polarity.

    > >A biology that takes life on its own terms must begin with the whole and
    > >purpose, not mechanisms and their reactions.
    > Yes, it does begin with the whole, and then we deduce the mechanisms and
    > reactions

    Which are entirely inadequate to explain the processes of the organism, including its development from the egg. Hence we deduce the causal primacy of the whole.

    > >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.
    > Of course, not. I'll bet he doesn't believe in spooky fields or dinosaurs
    > to us.

    Are electromagnetic fields spooky? Then why developmental fields? What Einstein called "spooky action at a distance" is now known as quantum entanglement, a thoroughly proven natural phenomenon. Also, nobody is claiming that dinosaurs are signalling us. The form of the dinosaur is a living memory that can be tapped into by sufficiently similar organisms in the course of their development. This is no different than to say that when you inhale a familiar scent, you are likely to tap into the memory of an earlier occasion when you happened upon the same odor.

    Your comment amounts to nothing more than loaded language and misconstrual. You've failed to address the point, which is that the whole is the primary reality and causal influence of the cell. This is in keeping with your usual strategy, which is to simply ignore any points you can't answer and focus on those comments that you erroneously believe open up a weakness you can attack.

    > >With or without a steel plate, termites don't rely on hearing to build
    > >arches. This possibility has already been ruled out
    > By hearing I mean sensistivity to vibration.

    Of course. As I said, this possibility has already been ruled out.

    > >Deny the evidence all you want. Eppur si muove.

    > No, one dodgy paper in a fringe journal does not constitute evidence.

    In what sense is it dodgy? Because it points to a conclusion you disagree with? Scripta Medica is a respected journal that no doubt prints all sorts of stuff you would be perfectly in agreement with. But when it prints something you don't like, you call it "fringe." More loaded language.

    > Many thousands of scientists who have done cell culture over the last
    > will tell you that resistance to compunds added to flasks does not spring
    > the other flasks. I personally have done many hundreds of similar
    > (in the mid-90s). What Hill proposes is just absurd.

    How would you know whether or not one culture is influencing a physically separated culture unless you directly tested for it? Whatever results you see in a given culture, you'll simply attribute to the operations of that culture by itself. And why bother testing for influence from separated cultures when the very idea is simply asburd? Of course, one might say that the revolution of the earth around the sun is also absurd. After all, as anyone can plainly see, the sun rises in the east, crosses the sky, and sets in the west.


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