RE: Me against the meme

From: William Abecassis (
Date: Wed 16 Nov 2005 - 22:15:39 GMT

  • Next message: Scott Chase: "Re: Me against the meme"

    Hello Ted,

    With regard to how complex structures form from much simpler sub-components, I tend to disagree with your statement that "No one has the slightest idea how cellular order might arise from molecular disorder".

    In fact, complexity theory (a subfield of chaos mathematics) provides some very good explanations of how this happens. "Emergent phenomenon" is the term used to describe how complex, organized behaviors emerge from the seemingly random interactions of simpler components.

    That being said, these "emergent phenomenon" are difficult, if not impossible, to predict using reductionist approaches. Most researchers in the field therefore use simulations to uncover them.

    Here is the wikipedia entry: The bibliography section at the bottom of the page provides some great references if you are interested.

    Best, William Abecassis.

    -----Original Message----- From: [] On Behalf Of Dace Sent: Wednesday, November 16, 2005 4:50 PM To: Subject: Re: Me against the meme


    > At 22:34 10/11/2005, Dace wrote:
    > >All we need for a rational theory of life is fields and memory. We need
    > >holistic organization that operates according to what has worked before.
    > >must be probabilistic, not deterministic, in order to allow us to change
    > >course if we see fit. As this theory can account for life as we actually
    > >know it to be, reductionists must demonstrate why it can't be true. The
    > >onus is on you.
    > Bertrand Russell used to tell a story about the time when he was on
    > the popular lecture circuit in the 1920s. During a public talk when
    > he was expounding the latest developments in quantum mechanics and
    > relativity, he was interrupted by a lady who maintained that he had
    > said nothing that would disprove her belief - that the world rested
    > on a giant turtle. Russell, naively thinking that a little rational
    > argument could disabuse the poor woman, tried, "But what, madam, does
    > the turtle rest on?" The lady was unimpressed. "It's turtles all
    > the way down."

    Apparently, this lady liked turtles. I don't posit fields and memory because I think they're neat. I posit them because they account for the fundamental features we observe in organisms, in particular the human organism. A theory of life should be true-to-life. It should make room for self-existence, self-determination, awareness and self-awareness, desire, will and purpose, memory, regret, shame and guilt, the ego and the unconscious, anxiety and dread, fear and terror, love and hate, representation, intelligence and communication, trust and deceit, pleasure and pain, even qualities as simple as color and humor. The willing, purposive mind is the center of the living universe. Yet the mind, the self, has no place in the mechanistic system of reductionistic biology. Not only our current experience but the whole history of life is rendered nonsense under the regime of reductionism. So long as we limit causality to contact mechanics, biological inheritance must be limited to the transferal of genes from parent to progeny. Since living adaptations don't influence genes, the willing, purposive organism is barred from influencing evolution. It would be as if astronomers eliminated the sun from the solar system because the sun's gravity doesn't fit their preconceived notion of contact mechanics. Rather than fit the world to our idea, we must fit our idea to the world.

    > >Your entire approach is that of a true-believer. You're acting
    > >more like a lawyer defending his client (reductionism) than a scientist
    > >interested in arriving at the truth. At the very least, you should be
    > >recognizing that the holistic approach to life is as valid as the
    > >reductionistic approach. But you have no interest in comparing rival
    > >theories, only in tarring the one you don't like with guilt by
    > >(as in equating field theory with creationism).
    > Well, okay then, Ted, tell me what evidence you would like to
    > see. You've been unimpressed with all my reference to Nobel-Prize
    > winning developmental biology, but there must be some conceivable set
    > of circumstances that would convince you that molecules are the key
    > to understanding life. Tell me what evidence you need to see, and
    > I'll try to dig it up for you.

    Alright. How do you account for macromolecular order in the face of molecular disorder? The closest nonbiological analogue to the cell is not a machine or a factory but a cloud. From the physical point of view, a cell is a packet of free-floating molecules. According to thermodynamics, the behavior of molecules in a cloud is undetermined. Thermodynamics is based on statistics. You can predict the behavior of aggregates of molecules-- that is, the cloud as a whole-- but not individual particles comprising it. Of course, thermodynamics can't even begin to explain the stunning intricacy of cellular organization. How do we get from molecular disorder to proteins and organelles? How can we account for large-scale cellular order according to the model of contact mechanics? Where's the evidence that higher-level order is built up, machine-like, from molecular components?

    Secondly, it's not enough to simply link genotype to phenotype. Where is the causal chain linking transcription of DNA to multicellular structures? As presidential contender Walter Mondale used to say, Where's the beef? You've got the bottom bun, the gene, and you've got the top bun, the trait, but there's no meat. That's quite a gap to fill in.

    I recognize my questions are unfair. I'm asking for evidence where there isn't even a theory. No one has the slightest idea how cellular order might arise from molecular disorder. Nor is there any theory as to how genes make bodies. Before you look for evidence, you must have a theory you're trying to bolster with said evidence. Otherwise it's just data. As Elsasser pointed out, reductionistic biology isn't so much a theoretical science as a jumble of information in search of a theory. Biologists seem to have confused assumption with theory. The assumption that the body works according to contact mechanics doesn't constitute a theory. As Dawkins observed in regard to creationism, that you can't imagine it any other way doesn't mean you're right.

    > >As we ourselves are
    > >organic forms, we may confidently attribute purposiveness to other
    > >forms as well, all the way down to bacteria.
    > Anthropomorphism (as well as a unjustified leap of logic)

    The only fundamental distinction between humans and other life forms is recursive thought. Because we can reflect on our representations, we're able to produce what Kate refers to as meta-representations. Thus we can reflect on our purposes. We can wonder if we're going in the right direction and perhaps change course. That cats and dogs fail to reflect on their goals doesn't mean they don't have them in the first place. If we didn't inherit purposiveness from our animal ancestors, then we must have received it from a higher, cosmic intelligence. If you insist on denying purpose in pre-human life, you must therefore deny it in human life as well. Like consciousness itself, purpose is simply an illusion to be explained by the mechanistic functioning of neurons. While this takes you back to the problem of positing a theory of life that fails to account for its basic features, at least you remain consistently reductionistic.

    Incidentally, it's in the context of meta-representation that memes enter the picture, taking over from purely biological causes, including imitation. You're not just imitating other reductionists, like a dolphin imitating other dolphins that use a sponge to pick up food, but reflecting on your worldview and allowing the reductionistic worldview to replicate in your mind. Alas, reductionistic biology is irrational. You've reflected enough to obtain an irrational meme but not enough to obtain a rational meme.

    > >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
    > >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
    > >reduced to matter. The field is itself a causal mechanism.
    > But knowing that the field comes from the queen I can now identify
    > the field's causal mechanism, by doing a saturation mutagenesis on
    > the termite genome and picking out the genes that give her the
    > capacity to create the field. After another few years of hard work
    > in the lab, we'd have a molecular genetic mechanism for the creation
    > of the field. Reductionism would have won again.

    Like I said, you're coming at it like a lawyer seeking a legal victory rather than a scientist seeking truth. Even if you have a gene that's necessary for the field to kick in, a gene is still a collection of particles and is therefore insufficient to account for the field by itself.

    > Actually, fun though this would be, I've been reading around the
    > Marais experiment and it appears he was the only one to do it, and
    > the only description is in the book to which I gave the
    > web-link. There's no actual hard evidence the experiment was ever
    > done (or if it was done, done properly), so it is inadmissible as
    > evidence in your case, I fear.

    Marais' experiment needs to be replicated. Alas, as Rothman points out, the money is in reductionism. Unless your experiment is designed to demonstrate a mechanical cause, you're not likely to get a grant. Researchers assume reductionism in part because that's the way to advance your career. The memes follow the money. As to which came first, the flow of memes or the flow of dollars, I can't rightly say.


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