From: Dace (
Date: Tue Jul 31 2001 - 22:21:06 BST

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    Subject: Macguffin
    Date: Tue, 31 Jul 2001 14:21:06 -0700
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    > >>All you need is a process
    > where there
    > >>is replication, variation and selection.
    > <In other words, a macguffin?>
    > A macguffin is a a piece of artifice needed to make something work.
    > There's nothing like that about the processes of replication, variation or
    > selection.

    Yes, but replication, variation, and selection of *what*? The organism
    itself, or a chain of macromolecules buried in the depths of our cells?
    Neo-Darwinism reduces evolution to the replication, variation, and selection
    of *genes*. These genes constitute a design. A design is a sophisticated
    form of homunculus. The homunculus is a macguffin, in fact, the original
    macguffin. DNA is supposed to get us around the macguffin, but actually
    it's just a sublimated macguffin. There's no design down there. There's no
    blueprint of the body which is in some way separate from the body as a
    whole. There's no information stored within the body from which its
    construction proceeds in a mechanistic manner.

    As long as we insist on a "design" by which the body is produced, then we're
    faced with a choice between Darwinian "stupid design" and theological
    "intelligent design." Did the design come about through blind chemical
    processes in conjunction with environmental pressures, or did it come about
    through the intelligent planning of a creative being?

    To recognize the factuality of evolution is to forsake the notion of a
    design which is somehow other than than the thing designed. "Blueprint" or
    "program" is anthropomorphic projection. We're superimposing human
    techno-methodology onto the workings of the organic world. God itself is a
    projection of human qualities onto nature. In other words, we're still
    haunted. The deity still lurks in the guts of our theory. Darwin is
    God-as-Oedipus. If I blind myself, cut the soul out of myself, then I have
    no more sin. That's basically the psychodynamics we're dealing with. (Or
    psychobabble, take your pick.)

    > <You can't trust a theory that invokes the name of someone who
    > explicitly
    > > rejected its central tenet. >
    > >
    > Yes, you can. Einstein's theories predicted black holes, but he
    > explicitly rejected them as impossible.

    Black holes are not essential to Einstein's outlook. The equivalent of a
    germ-plasm theory known as "neo-Darwinian" would be a theory positing
    absolute space and time that called itself "neo-Einsteinian."

    > <Darwin was certainly aware of the "germ-plasm"theory.
    > > He dismissed it on the basis of the absence of monsters in nature.
    > > If phenotypic characteristics could be individually molded on the basis
    > > units of germ-plasm, then alterations in these units should produce
    > > grotesque changes in outer form. If the "germ" for ears mutated in such
    > > way as to increase their size by three-fold, the world might soon
    > > the onset of a race of Mickey Mouses. Yet this doesn't happen.
    > > it's because the body's form is governed holistically. This is why
    > > evolution is driven according to the sensible behavior of the organism
    > > rather than the blind workings of its macromolecules. The atomistic
    > > of inheritance is unsuitable for evolution. Aristotle, Goethe,
    > > and yes, even Bergson (despite his vitalism), tell us far more about
    > > than Crick and Watson ever could.>
    > >
    > Just visit, if it's still there, for some of the
    > remarkable quirks of nature that are born into this world, but usually do
    > not survive very long before dying. This simply isn't true, major
    > do occur in individuals of all species, but rarely survive to breed,
    > that mutation confers some survival advantage. There are numerous species
    > with, to human eyes, highly exaggerated physical characteristics, which
    > persist because they are adaptive within that organisms environmental

    If evolution works blindly at the molecular level, then bizarre mutations
    would be commonplace. We would see them all around us. It's because form
    is holistically regulated that harmony is the rule and monstrosity the
    exception. Give Darwin some credit. He understood life in a way that's
    eluded his successors.

    > That recent assertion that the number of active genes is far
    > smaller, that got lots of publicity, has subsequently been widely
    > as a very bottom end guesstimate based on the skeletal results rather
    > prematurely announced by the two bodies competing to complete the sequence
    > first. As has been discussed on the list, it's the complexity of
    > interactions that is important not the basic number anyway.

    Complexity of genetic interactions works against mechanistic biology. Where
    is the inherited information according to which this interaction is
    governed? As Harry Rubin of UC Berkeley points out, there are 1000 genes
    influencing the production of penicillin in the mold, Aspergillus. Assuming
    there are two types of each gene, a wild type and a mutated type, then the
    number of possible gene interactions involved in this process is 2 to the
    1000th power. This can also be expressed as 10 to the 300th power. By
    contrast, the total number of particles in the universe is only 10 to the
    80th power. At least the world's most powerful supercomputers would require
    only 100 years to perform a complete protein-folding computation. By
    contrast, calculating the interactions of genes in the production of
    penicillin is "transcomputational," meaning that it cannot be calculated in
    an infinite amount of time. Yet this is a simple, haploid organism. In
    drosophila, there are 10,000 genes involved in the production of an eye.
    There's no possibility that a mechanical system, natural or technological,
    could control this process. There's no possibility that the information
    encoding the steps of this process could somehow fit into our genes. If the
    genome were large enough to contain all this information, its own
    interactions would be so complex that the information stored in it couldn't
    possibly account for its functions. The problem is that the hypothetical
    function of genes-- storage of design information-- is incompatible with
    their actual function, the complex interactions with proteins and with each
    other that provide the ground floor of cellulary acitivity.

    The key to a genuine biology is the concept of "self." All organic
    processes are self-controlled. There's no division between program and
    execution of program. Life is self-creative and self-regulating. This is
    the basis of our intuition of selfhood. Mechanistic biology substitutes the
    human being with Homo macguffin.

    Ted Dace

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