From: Dace (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Fri 11 Nov 2005 - 19:05:23 GMT
>> A biology that takes life on its own terms must begin with
>> the whole and its purpose, not mechanisms and their
> You can't use words like purpose for wholes (or even parts).
> Consider firstly (one take on) functionalism from sociology;
> things' roles are purely defined by their effects, not by
> 'intent' (which as a full-on meme machinist I'd say can never be
> freed from those quote marks whatever the context...).
> This is additionally a solid gold meme point a la Dennet; use of
> particular language can be a bar to a whole way of thinking.
> 'purpose' as you use it (i.e. for organic form) is only ever
> discernable with hindsight.
Purpose, at least in our own lives, is self-evident. As we ourselves are
organic forms, we may confidently attribute purposiveness to other organic
forms as well, all the way down to bacteria. We don't have to approach life
from the outside, as if we were robots unable to comprehend causation except
in terms of mechanical necessity. When I was six years old, I used to
pretend I was a robot, and my mission was to save America from evil,
communist robots. Sometimes I think reductionists have never outgrown that
stage of development.
>> 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.
> Any whole-cell
> simulation is just an assemblage of models each built on
> reductionist analyses, all run in parallel. Reductionism does
> not forbid interaction; this is not the 'great' Mrs Thatcher
> denying society in favour of individuals. Reductionism is an
> analytical technique not a philosophy!
The point is that describing the parts doesn't necessarily reveal the whole.
According to Alfred G. Gilman, a Nobel Prize-winning biochemist (quoted in
Gibbs' article) "I could draw you a map of all the components in a cell and
put all the proper arrows connecting them." But for even the simplest
microbe, "I or anybody else would look at that map and have absolutely no
ability to predict anything." To make predictions, you have to run
simulations of whole cells until you stumble onto the right model. We don't
know, just from the parts, what that useful model will be until we hit upon
it through trial and error. Clearly, there's more to a cell than its parts.
Reductionism is perfectly fine as a technique applied in conjunction with
holism. Alas, it's been a philosophy opposed to holism for nearly 400
years, and that's a deeply ingrained meme not easily uprooted.
> And I would suggest you consider something like this:
> Cells are ordered and managed to a degree that _almost_ baffles
> the imagination. No need for influence.
Sure, cells are ordered, but where does that order come from? Why assume it
comes from the physical and chemical principles of its molecular components?
The answer to this question is actually quite simple. You make this
assumption because you've been indoctrinated into a subculture in which
reductionism is the default assumption. To maintain yourself in good
standing in your exclusive club, you must always assume deterministic
causation based on contact mechanics. This attitude cropped up again in the
news recently when it was reported that a small number of Arabidopsis
thaliana plants had mysteriously reverted to the genes of its grandparents
in place of the mutant genes of its parents. All the mutations of their
parents had been repaired, as if they'd been descended directly from their
wildtype grandparents. Researchers were baffled as to how the plants knew
what the pre-mutant genetic sequences were. They then concluded that there
must be a complete copy of the plant's genes contained in its RNA, and it
was from this copy that the numerous, disparate mutations in its genome were
repaired. Now, there's no evidence that RNA contains any genes at all, much
less a complete set of them. Whether or not the researchers are correct,
they're making an awfully big assumption. Both Scientific American and
Science reported it as a done deal: there must be another copy of the genome
in RNA. No evidence, just blind allegiance to reductionistic metaphysics.
Of course, it's just as likely that the wildtype reversion is based on
holistic memory, but the cult of reductionism doesn't allow for this
> > [regarding the mysterious ability of termites to produce perfect arches
> > when a steel plate is inserted between the two bases of the arch]
> I covered this one already! It is really straightforward, based
> on actors following rule sets applied to _local_ stimuli without
> need of intermediate-range signalling of any kind whether
> chemical or vibrational knee-hearing or whatever.
> The plate was as you said _inserted_ implying that the mound's
> development was already well underway, setting up a set of basic
> conditions before intervention (point one). The actors continue
> to follow _local_ rules of the form 'if you are confronted with
> X, do Y' (point two).
Okay, let's assume termites utilize an if-then, algorithmic logic in the
creation of their mounds, including arches. Presumably, if the termites
rely on sense-perception to get the two sides of their arches to meet
cleanly in the middle, then the sudden, catastrophic loss of sense data
coming from the opposite side would cause them to abandon the arch. The
algorithm would look something like this: If the other side of the arch
vanishes behind a solid steel wall, abandon the arch! Yet that's not what
termites do. Therefore they don't rely on self-perception in the first
place. Their behavior is modulated by a field of influence much like
particles in a magnetic field, the difference being that this type of field
is based on form in place of charge. Unless you can explain why such a
field cannot exist, you must accept this is as the default explanation.
> To paraphrase Sherlock Holmes; when you have eliminated the
> impossible (or daft), what remains, however improbable, must be
> the truth.
A process can certainly be impossible, such as the genetic calculation of
the correct means of combining to produce multicellular organisms, but it
can't be daft except in the minds of people who don't like it.
Impossibility is objective; daftness is subjective. Your addition of daft
to impossibility as a criterion for rejecting an explanation tells a lot
about how you think. Yet to maintain yourself in good standing in the
memetically-mediated cult of reductionism, you have no choice but to add
this criterion, as there's nothing known to physics that rules out
> Occam through Conan Doyle's eyes (who was himself
> then fooled by two little girls' pictures of fairies as he had
> insufficient mental awareness of the potential to be misled by
> the new technology of photography).
Conan Doyle was fascinated by the occult, the unexplained, the odd little
detail that just didn't fit the conventional explanation. This is a regular
theme in the Sherlock Holmes stories. He fixates on the one thing that just
doesn't make any sense, and out of this examination solves the entire
mystery. Rather than flee from the odd details, such as the ability of
termites to build arches perfectly without the benefit of sense-perception
or the ability of pets to know when their masters have decided to come home,
the scientific mentality welcomes such anomalies as clues to a better
theory. What the reductionist cult reveals is the mentality of dogmatism,
> Here's Marais's orginal.
> In the middle section there is:
> "While the termites are carrying on their work of restoration on
> either side of the steel plate, dig a furrow enabling you to reach
> the queen's cell, disturbing the nest as little as possible. Expose
> the queen and destroy her. Immediately the whole community ceases
> work on either side of the plate. We can separate the termites from
> the queen for months by means of this plate, yet in spite of that
> they continue working systematically while she is alive in her cell;
> destroy or remove her, however, and their activity is at an end."
> So if there is a spooky field, it must emanate from the body of the
> queen. Therefore, it cannot be a property of the whole nest, but
> merely of the queen's individual body. Therefore it is not a
> holistic field at all. QED.
Nice try. That the field requires a queen doesn't mean it's somehow not
really a field (which is inherently holistic). Take away the big chunk of
iron, and all the magnetic particles fall out of alignment. Every field
exists in conjunction with matter. The point is that it can't be causally
reduced to matter. The field is itself a causal mechanism.
> > > A species
> > > is self-determined to the extent that an
> > > intelligently chosen functional
> > > adaptation has generated a structural variation to
> > > be selected or not by the
> > > environment.
> >Intelligently chosen?
> >Why do psychological features that
> >evolved within one branch of great apes apply to
> >distinct branches such as plants or bacteria? I just
> >don't get it.
> Nor do I. And there's also a deeper problem with the notion of an
> kind of "chosen" functional adaptation (intelligent or otherwise),
> which is that there is no empirical evidence for such a process,
> despite a century of failed attempts (from Kammerer to Steele via
> Michurin and Lysenko) to find it.
So there's no evidence for intelligently adapting to a given situation.
It's just never occurred in the history of the world. Nobody's ever, say,
called a plumber when the faucet started leaking or put on a coat when it
was cold outside. Never happened. Just another occultist/commie
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