Re: Teleology etc.

From: Dace (
Date: Sat Aug 11 2001 - 19:19:43 BST

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    Subject: Re: Teleology etc.
    Date: Sat, 11 Aug 2001 11:19:43 -0700
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    From: Chris Taylor

    > Sorry you're getting such a kicking Ted - I have to say I admire your
    > staying power!

    No one's landed a clean shot on me yet.

    > Two points to start:
    > 1) You just can't cite Kant as an authority on molecular biology.

    And who says you can cite molecular biology as an authority on life? What
    has molecular biology ever explained about life? Description is not the
    same as explanation. We know all kinds of things that go on in our cells,
    but we don't know why any of it happens. We still can't answer the basic
    question of what distinguishes a living cell from a dead cell. Why doesn't
    the living cell just stop and begin disintegrating? Molecular biology has
    no answer to this question. The *science* of biology hasn't been invented
    yet. At least Sheldrake is actually trying to explain life on its own terms
    rather than calling it a machine and then trying to explain that instead.

    > 2) Protein folding is rather complex -

    So complex in fact that we have absolutely no idea what's going on in there.
    You'd think by now we'd have some kind of model or map of how this process
    is carried out. After all, we have very powerful computers than can model
    extremely complex processes. But protein folding is so unimaginably complex
    that no one's ever been foolish enough to try to model it (though in theory
    the world's most powerful supercomputers could do the job if they worked at
    it continuously for the next 100 years.)

    many chaperones help out,
    > different cellular compartments are involved, as are timing effects to
    > allow local folding. You need a concept of an energy landscape, which is
    > 'out there' in a sense(...), but you most emphatically do not need
    > mystery fields of force.

    It's all descriptive. We know these "chaperones" are involved, but they
    don't explain why it happens the way it does. It's just assumed that
    someday we'll have an explanation.

    The question is what controls this unbelievably complex process. If it's
    controlled from our genes, then our genes must be vastly more powerful than
    any supercomputer ever devised. The only other option is that it's somehow

    > TD:
    > > To my knowledge Wilson has never responded to Sheldrake's thesis that
    > > termite mounds are governed by morphic fields, with the termites
    occupying a
    > > similar role to cells within animal bodies. Wilson has never responded
    > > this suggestion because he has no alternative. It's just up in the air.
    > > doesn't like the field explanation, but he can't offer anything better.
    > JD:
    > > I'm sure that there is a similar
    > > rule or small group of rules, probably connected with pheromonic
    > > chemical marking, that will suffice to explain termite mound
    > > construction.
    > I've seen simulated paper wasps build complex nests despite individuals
    > only having small simple locally applicable rule sets (consisting of
    > simple input=output pairs). Termites would be easy enough too. Wilson
    > didn't have decent computers and complexity theory to help him.

    This is the basic message of chaos theory. But the principle of complexity
    from simplicity doesn't tell us why one simple egg becomes a complex ant,
    while another simple egg becomes a complex bee. This is why neo-Darwinism
    posits the genetic program and why Sheldrake posits morphic resonance.
    Organisms self-organize according to their resonance with previous, similar

    > And btw where did the *first* termite mound come from (and the first
    > protein structures too)?

    As you well know, they evolved from earlier, more primitive structures.

    > TD:
    > > Sheldrake gets around both of these problems.
    > No he doesn't - he tells us a story without evidence.

    Who says he has no evidence? He's not only conducted his own controlled
    experiments, but he draws on experiments conducted by behaviorists who
    demonstrated morphic resonance purely by accident and then dismissed the
    results as anomolous.

    > > Memes not a product of genes, so must be from MR etc. etc.
    > Uh-uh - the whole point of this group is the study of culturally
    > heritable patterns - heritable as in copyable. No need for any ethereal
    > templates. And again, where do the first ones come from? Evolution by
    > natural selection operating on variation explains this diversification
    > for me, what does MR have to say about it (genuine question)?

    MR offers a model of evolution that gives organisms an active role in
    shaping themselves. We know, for instance, that camels begin developing
    calluses on their kneepads when they're still in the womb. This would
    suggest that camels who developed calluses as a result of kneeling in the
    desert passed this trait onto their offspring. Since behavior can't
    directly affect genes, the logical assumption is that the calluses are
    passed on non-genetically. Otherwise we must accept the colossal
    improbability that the genetic mutation for calluses on the kneepads just
    happened to appear right when the camels needed it. You'd think they'd have
    to have gone through a lot of useless mutations first, like calluses in
    other places, or the wrong alterations on kneepads before they'd hit on the
    right mutation. How many millions of years should it have taken for them to
    get the right mutation? Now consider the fact that this applies many times
    over for every species on earth, and you start to see just how high that
    mountain of improbability is. Sheldrake offers a more streamlined, elegant
    model of evolution.

    > > Has anybody spoke to the infamous 100th monkey phenomenon yet?
    > Pah-leeze put me out of my misery...

    There was indeed an experiment involving island monkeys and their ability to
    learn to wash sand off potatoes before eating them. The speed of learning
    proceeded at a slow pace at first, and then overnight all the monkeys seemed
    to have learned the method. Unfortunately, this experiment was not properly
    controlled, so Sheldrake refuses to invoke it in support of his theory. He
    prefers experiments, such as the water maze experiments with rats, that have
    never been disputed.

    Ted Dace

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