Monday, November 15, 2010

On "natural selection"

Here’s the thing about ‘natural selection.’ It is just a phrase that performs some linguistic sleight of hand. It’s a meaningless phrase that means “Designer” but purports to represent a purely mechanical, that is to say, physical process, i.e. one without a designer. So ‘ns’ means that no designer designed the apparent design in a universe that contains no real design. WTF, over? Excuse my technical Marine Corps acronym. (It means “where’s the fire” or something like that, I forget.)

Of Molecules and Men, Crick, page 67.
“The crucial point is the one at which natural selection could begin to act, since from then on the system could go on improving itself.”

Act?? Improving itself?? The laws of physics do not “act” and I’d be willing to bet (a lot) that they could “care” less about improving anything.

River Out of Eden, page 98. “… The true process that has endowed wings and eyes, beaks, nesting instincts and everything else about life with the strong illusion of purposeful design is now well understood. It is Darwinian natural selection.”

So let me get this straight. In a universe of no purpose and no design, a “natural” process (living things procreate) has somehow managed to produce organisms that have the “strong illusion” of things that do not actually exist (design and purpose), by a process that is blind and purposeless. Oh yeah, I’m buying that.

The God Delusion, page 189. “natural selection has set up the perception of pain as a token of life – threatening bodily damage, and programmed us to avoid it.”

Are you kidding me? Think about what is being said here. The laws of physics “set up the perception of pain as a token of life” – what does that even mean? Somehow the laws of physics “decided” that pain was a good way to inform us that our bodies were being damaged and that it PROGRAMMED us to avoid pain?? They cannot even avoid using the language of purpose and design as they deny the existence of purpose and design.

“Throughout this book, I have emphasized that we must not think of genes as conscious, purposeful agents. Blind natural selection, however, makes them behave rather as if they were purposeful…”The Selfish Gene. p. 196.

The abuse of the law of identity is stunning. Blind ‘ns’ makes them behave ‘as if’ they were purposeful. What is this but a ludicrous assertion that defies reason? Something blind that has no purpose make things behave as if they were imbued with purpose but actually had no purpose?

“In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.” River Out of Eden. p. 132.

OK, so Dawkins knows that ‘ns’ is just another way to say physics. And note the lack of purpose. He says that in a universe of no purpose, what we should expect to see are complex beyond imagination creatures that are obsessed with purpose and meaning who are created by blind forces to only think that real purpose and meaning actually exist. In other words, I’m trying to get this Orwellian lingo down – in a universe of no purpose, only physics, that physics has created human beings (and everything else) that THINK that design really exists in the universe, but it really doesn’t!!! I think I’ve got it now. Where is the March Hare and the Queen of Hearts. And this is what Dawkins would expect a priori???? Pullease.

On physics… Dawkins again… from The God Delusion, page 181. “The physical stance always works in principle, because everything ultimately obeys the laws of physics.”

Did I “obey” physical laws when I chose this particular set of symbols to communicate this message? Or was something else going on? What physical law says that periods end sentences and commas act as pauses? What physical law says capitalize the first letter of a sentence plus names and proper nouns?

The Blind Watchmaker, page 5, Dawkins. “All appearances to the contrary, the only watchmaker in nature is the blind forces of physics, albeit deployed in a very special way.”

Dawkins “gets it.” Natural selection is just another way to say “physics.” But here’s a curious thing. I looked through the four fundamental forces of the universe currently recognized by the best physical theories and here’s what I found. Electromagnetism, gravity, nuclear weak, and nuclear strong. Hmmm. Conspicuously absent is “natural selection” as a “force” in nature. If ‘ns’ has causal power, is actually a FORCE in nature, then the physicists would know about it. But they don’t. ‘ns’ is a meaningless phrase that means that living things live and only living things reproduce. Gee. Who’d a thunk?

If ‘ns’ means that there is some sort of differential reproductive advantage then that should be measurable. But it’s not. It doesn’t mean anything other than what I just said. If something is alive, hello, it must be fit, by definition, or it wouldn’t be alive. So we say that living things are fit and that fit things are living. And we say that only the living things reproduce and somehow that, THAT, accounts for the amazing panoply of life on the planet. Dear God in heaven. How can people be so, so gullible?

It’s as if I say the champions always win the tournament and therefore the tournaments are always won by the champions! And if I say it in a breathess manner and with authority then some people might think I’m on to something. Hardly. But it “explains” the results of every tournament ever won. NO! It’s just a definition. ‘ns’ is a definition, too. It means “being alive.”

And the most obvious abuse of logic in the whole ridiculous idea of ‘ns’ is the notion that there is a “struggle for survival” in nature. Wait a minute. I thought the universe was blind and indifferent and PURPOSELESS? Why would “physics” or the “universe” care if anything survived or not? And why would anything that was accidentally animated have any intent to “survive?” Much less “care” or “struggle” to do the same??? This is just irrational on the face of it but they have gotten away with this nonsense for so long that even people who know better think that ‘natural selection’ is some kind of real force in nature.

Let me offer a counter proposal as to what is going on. There is indeed differential reproduction and there is indeed adaptation to environment but what we are witnessing when we see this is not ‘natural selection’ at work but we are seeing the intricate interplay of exquisitely designed creatures with their environment. The information already exists in the genome so the weasel changes color in the winter, for example, when environmental cues are detected and somehow responded to by the weasel. Presumably without his knowledge. I doubt that there are weasels running around Canada right now fretting about when their fur is going to change color. There is no mysterious or magical or mythical ‘ns’ going on. Here’s the ‘ns’ story: somehow a weasel had a mutation and it turned his fur white one November, just before the first snow fell, and this weasel therefore had an “advantage” and his offspring… well, this is just too ridiculous for words. Gould had a phrase for this kind of thing, borrowed from Kipling, “just so stories.”

p.s. Here’s one of my all time favorite Dawkins explanations of how birds got wings. Don’t be drinking anything while you read this as you will risk exhaling it through your sinus cavities.

The Blind Watchmaker, p.89-90.

“What use is half a wing? How did wings get their start? Many animals leap from bough to bough, and sometimes fall to the ground. Especially in a small animal, the whole body surface catches the air and assists the leap, or breaks the fall, by acting as a crude aerofoil. Any tendency to increase the ratio of surface area to weight would help, for example flaps of skin growing out in the angles of joints. From here, there is a continuous series of gradations to gliding wings, and hence to flapping wings. Obviously there are distances that could not have been jumped by the earliest animals with proto-wings (or as he earlier called them, flaps of skin, my editorial comment). Equally obviously, for any degree of smallness or crudeness of ancestral air-catching surfaces, there must be some distance, however short, which can be jumped with the flap and which cannot be jumped without the flap.

Or, if prototype wingflaps worked to break the animal’s fall, you cannot say ‘Below a certain size the flaps would have been of no use at all.’ Once again, it doesn’t matter how small and un-winglike the first wingflaps were. There must be some height, call it h, such that an animal would just break its neck if it fell from that height, but would just survive if it fell from a slightly lower height. In this critical zone, any improvement in the body surface’s ability to catch the air and break the fall, however slight that improvement, can make the difference between life and death. Natural selection will then favour slight, prototype wingflaps. When these small wingflaps have become the norm, the critical height h will become slightly greater. Now a slight further increase in the wingflaps will make the difference between life and death. And so on until we have proper wings.”

Friday, November 12, 2010

On naturalism and materialism - a post I made on UD in August (2010)

Late to the party again.

JMcL “1: If atheism is true, then so is materialism.”

I’ve always approached this in the opposite way. That is, if materialism is true, then God cannot exist and neither can souls or minds because God and minds are not matter.

If only matter exists, then everything must be subject to the laws of physics. (what else is there plus it seems to be inductively true to a virtual certainty)

After all, naturalism, materialism, and physicalism all define themselves in terms of the causal closure of nature so the laws of physics governing the behavior of matter is just part of the definition.

Atheism is a conclusion of materialism, not the other way around. In my opinion, anyway.

In fact, I’m not sure that you even need this premise for the rest of your argument to follow. Let’s see how it would play out if we turned the first premise around.

1: If materialism is true, then atheism is true. (True by definition but as we will see not needed.)

2: If materialism is true, then the mind is reducible to the chemical constituents of the brain. (This is also true by definition.)

3: If the mind is reducible to the chemical constituents of the brain, then human autonomy and consciousness are illusory because our free choices are determined by the dual forces of chance and necessity. (maybe say the laws of physics – quantum/chance, necessity/gravity) (also true by definition)

4: Human autonomy exists.

5: Therefore, the mind is not reducible to the chemical constituents of the brain.

You’ve set up modus tollens:

If materialism is true we’d have no free will. (2 and 3)

But we do have free will. (4)

Therefore, materialism is false. (conclusion of modus tollens) (5)

But this begs the question, I think. For you have still only asserted but not proven free will. Fortunately, there is a way around this.

It’s more cumbersome than the way I will use at the end but I think this will give you the missing piece.

What you need to do is link the creation of information with free will. In fact, this JUST occurred to me as a decisive argument for free will. Cool. So here’s how it goes.

In order to create information, contingency is required. (I already knew this part)

This is self-evidently true. Any algorithm based upon, say gravity, would necessarily result in a sequence of letters like aaaaaaaaaa.

Drop object.
If object falls. Type a.
If object ~falls. Type any other key at random.
Result will be aaaaaaaa.

OK. But how about chance? Say we could set up an algorithm based on quantum activity like radioactive decay. Somehow we map time of particle decay to an alphabet and every time a particle decays we type the letter that is associated with that time.

So now we are faced with insurmountable odds. Say 26 letters, a space, three punctuation marks, and ten numbers, total of 40 characters in our “alphabet.” Now, what would the odds be of getting a meaningful string of letters ten letters long? Our denominator would be 40^10 which is 10^10xlog40 or 10 x 1.6 = 16. So to get a meaningful string of letters we have 10^16 possibilities of meaningful strings. The problem here now is to put some meaningful number on the numerator and to be honest I really don’t know how to do that. I’m sure it’s a lot fewer than 10^16 but how to get it? As it turns out, we don’t need that number because we have ASSUMED that certain combinations of letters have meaning and others don’t. Why is that and how could physics account for it?

Well, we immediately see that physics cannot account for it because physics has nothing to say about our alphabet of symbols and the rules that govern the arrangement of them into words and phrases that mean something. Find a law of physics that bears on why “dog” means man’s best friend. That’s not what physics is about. Physics is about sub-atomic particles in energy fields and their interactions. Physics has nothing to say about the symbols or the rules that give meaning to certain arrangements of symbols.

So by definition physics is excluded. It’s a category mistake to even say it can. It’s tantamount to saying information is physical. We’ve seen that law cannot produce information (no contingency) and we’ve sort of seen that chance cannot do it. (Take a 100 letter string of meaningful characters and our denominator is now 10^160. Random doesn’t hack it.)

But with my mind I can effortlessly pick and choose letters and organize them in what I hope is not a completely incoherent ramble and arrange them in various ways so that I communicate my message. So what I am saying, inelegantly, I’m sure, is that free will is required to generate information. That’s the insight I just had earlier. I’ve always said that physics couldn’t do it and I’ve always said mind can do it but I’ve never said what about mind actually makes it happen and it’s FREE WILL! For if there is no free will, if there is only law, then even given an alphabet, there is no information. So that’s how I would try to work that in.

But here’s an even easier way to defeat the “isms.”

If naturalism, etc… are true, then physics can explain everything. (This is true by definition.)

But physics cannot explain language. (As we have just seen why.)

Therefore, naturalism is false.

It is not only false, it cannot be true. It MUST BE false. The only way to prove it false is to generate information by means of physical law. But physical law says nothing of symbols and rules which comprise language and which are necessary for encoding information.

This is devastating to neo-darwinism as well but it’s late. In any case, I’m sure this will offend someone’s sensibilities and I can see that tomorrow.

p.s. This doesn’t get us to theism and God but now the immaterial is on the table and any of the first cause arguments that rely on the impossibility of an infinite regress can easily prove that the First Cause is uncaused, eternal or infinite, and immaterial.

p.p.s. This is a great idea you have.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Language and Physics

Language can be reduced to physics because:
Meaning in language is merely the result of computational minds having the same dictionaries (that they built up by evolution). Symbols represent objects and that matching pattern is stored in the brain. So, the symbols "CAT" match the stored definition and thus "mammal", "purr", etc.

I don't really understand what you are saying. How do you even have a mental dictionary without language? And how do you have a language without symbols? How do you explain those symbols in terms of physical laws? The fact that the symbols "cat" "match" a connection to a certain kind of mammal is a free will, mental mental function that has nothing to do with physical law. That cannot possibly be explained by general relativity or quantum physics. Ever.