Monday, March 26, 2007

Thoughts about the Culture War and ID

First a little ID history from my perspective. I got introduced to the ID movement and Dr. Behe during the Dover trial. I went from Dr. Behe’s IC to Dr. Dembski’s ID Alternative called “telic properties in nature”. However, I was immediately disinvited from Uncommon Descent. In case it needs to be spelled out, most people would, and have, considered me anti-ID.

I ended up at Telic Thoughts (TT). Mike Gene and TT intrigued me. We have had our ups and downs. However, I was a tolerated guest and, occasionally, was encouraged to participate more. I learned a few things during my time there.

Dr. Dembski’s telic properties in nature may have been a general reference to EAM (TT’s Joy provided me with the hint I needed). However, EAM still leans heavily on “intelligence” (ability to learn/adapt) as opposed to just “telic”(purposeful). To the irritation of many TTers, I looked for why intelligence was required as opposed to simply purpose. The result was figuring out ID’s information theory argument boils down to a general statement that only intelligence can create intelligence without getting too picky about the meaning of the word “intelligence”.

Being an electrical engineer, I start thinking about a feedback loop. How do you create a sine wave output? Use a sine wave input and amplify it. Where do you get the input? From the output. It is called an oscillator circuit. Nothing magical or supernatural about it (except, maybe, the AA battery).

One of Joy’s pet peeves is that she feels Evolution Biologists don’t look outside their own discipline enough. Whether or not that is true, the physicist Steven Hawking’s work is freely available via the web and, unlike some other PhD types, he explains both the math and logic in a way that it can be understood and vetted by anyone who wishes to do so. Steven Hawking isn’t infallible (he famously lost a bet with another physicist) but he knows a lot more about cosmology than I do (understatement).

Here is a link where he explains the concept of time as just another dimension like North/South directions on a globe with the South Pole being the beginning of time and the North Pole being the end of time. Questions about events before the beginning of time are like questions about locations South of the South Pole. Both are paradoxical, but neither requires the supernatural.

I realize some people don’t accept this explanation as the Truth (capital “T”). This is where NOMA (Non-Overlapping_Magisteria) comes in. What I have come to realize in my TT travels is that NOMA is probably at the root of the Culture War. I also noticed NOMA transcends the religious/atheist divide. A standard four-quadrant map comes to mind, with the x-axis ranging from active atheist to devout fundamentalist and the y-axis ranging from no separation (OMA) to absolute separation (NOMA), making the quadrants religious-OMA, atheist-OMA, religious-NOMA and atheist-NOMA. A dot for individuals could be placed on the map to review which quadrant each fell into. Previously, I would have placed myself in the atheist-NOMA quadrant. Now, I am not sure for reasons I’m about to explain. There is a lot more to discuss about NOMA, but that would take too much space.

The passion in the ID/Evolution debate comes when someone (from either side) tries to claim the one and only OMA Truth. This is the elephant-in-the-livingroom that has to be addressed. So, without further ado, I boldly use the Hawking Model as my starting point for a proposed, OMA Truth that meets the various claims and goals of both sides of the issue. I am sure that some will not like this choice. To these people, I suggest they write a beginning to end proposal like this one and allow it to also be vetted publicly.

The Hawking Model includes the multiverse paradigm…“The picture Jim Hartle and I developed, of the spontaneous quantum creation of the universe, would be a bit like the formation of bubbles of steam in boiling water. The idea is that the most probable histories of the universe, would be like the surfaces of the bubbles. Many small bubbles would appear, and then disappear again. These would correspond to mini universes that would expand, but would collapse again while still of microscopic size.… A few of the little bubbles, however, will grow to a certain size at which they are safe from recollapse.”

A complaint to this is that the multiverse still doesn’t solve the improbability problem. In other words, why is this universe so lucky. I suggest changing the bubbles analogy to lightening strikes. The only universes that get beyond the recollapse stage are those that can complete the circuit from the beginning to the end of time. Think of the improbability of a lighting striking hitting a specific, small piece of metal out of acres of other targets. However, when that piece of metal is a lighting rod that completes a circuit, the improbable becomes very probable.

I offer this as a reason for a telic universe. The purpose of the universe is to be internally consistent. The universe must do what it needs to complete the consistency circuit from the beginning to the end of time, or it won’t exist. “Retrocausality” is a term that came up in TT. Here is the link to the newspaper article that initiated the discussion. A future state (cause) that completes the consistency circuit will influence the historical time-path (effect) much like a lightening strike steers towards a lightening rod.

This proposed model may help explain why this universe appears finely tuned. It had to be, or it wouldn’t have even started. It may also explain why historical events appear too fortuitous (retrocausality). But why life? Why intelligent life?

In case there was any illusion this would resolve the Culture War, it ends here. I am going to stipulate that in some yet-to-be-determined way, intelligent life is helpful in completing the consistency circuit of the universe.

To complete the picture, I have to discuss potential reasons why intelligent life is needed for our universe to be consistent. One trivial answer (and not very believable) is that our SETI activities has provided just the right amount of focused electromagnetic energy to assist in allowing a symmetrical collapse at the end of time. The reason I bring up this silly example is to illustrate that while the universe needs to reach the end of time, intelligent life may not have to. To the contrary, intelligent life may have already outlived its usefulness.

However, there are a few Billion people out there who are predisposed to believe at least some kind of intelligence will exist at the end of time. Let’s call this intelligence an “Intelligent Designer”. This has the effect of elevating the problem. The purpose of intelligent life is to eventually grow into the Intelligent Designer. Now, what is the purpose of the Intelligent Designer? Well, for one, the designer could use retrocausality to create intelligent life. This is the oscillator circuit mentioned earlier. Beyond that, I will just assume an Intelligent Designer would be useful in completing the consistency circuit of the Universe in other ways too.

There are many, many details left out of this presentation. For example, several people at TT insist a lack of progress in the origin of life research and certain features at the molecular level (DNA, proteins, etc) posit some kind of outside intervention like an Intelligent Designer. As I said, any illusion that this resolves the Culture War is for naught. I would hope this broad brush outline will be used as a framework to add details like OOL. Alternatively, I hope it provokes others into offering counter proposals to the same level of logical closure (even if lacking detail).

This is where I am going to stop for this post. BTW, “pathetically obvious” wouldn’t be unexpected reaction to this. It could also be claimed that this is just a restatement of various Anthropic Principles. I wouldn’t disagree with that either and I apologize for not giving all the people who deserve credit their due. I have no interest in claiming this as my idea. My real interest is in getting it presented and observing the reactions. I will gladly answer any questions you may have. Comments and suggestions are also welcome.

COMMENTS FOR THIS ARE CLOSED, PLEASE COMMENT ON LATER POSTS THAT DEAL WITH THIS SUBJECT, THANK YOU

19 comments:

M.C. said...

Well written, and I agree with the thought this is basically a restatement of the anthropic principle.

I think the key to all of this clamor around atheism-vs-theism, ID, the origin of the universe, etc. is the question of consciousness.

If consciousness is what is ultimately real, then all of this "matter" stuff is simply a pattern of perception playing itself out within Consciousness (and we could include all of our individual lives as part of this grand display unfolding).

If however, the materialists are correct, and consciousness is not the inherent basic fabric of reality but instead some kind of information-processing epiphenomenon, then your theory / anthropic principle would apply.

I would suggest that the anomalies of psi) (both as seen in the field and under controlled laboratory study) and the complete lack of progress on the hard problem of consciousness point us in the direction that consciousness is an inherent aspect of reality. This is a position that even some academically mainstream philosophers like Chalmers have been forced towards.

Thought Provoker said...

Hi M.C.,

Thank you for your kind and thoughtful response.

You wrote...

I think the key to all of this clamor around atheism-vs-theism, ID, the origin of the universe, etc. is the question of consciousness.

If consciousness is what is ultimately real, then all of this "matter" stuff is simply a pattern of perception playing itself out within Consciousness (and we could include all of our individual lives as part of this grand display unfolding).

My reactions to this may be difficult to explain, but I will try.

To me "consciousness" is part of a vague set that includes things like "love" and "morality". Some people believe "Love makes the world go around" (at least they did in the 60s). A lot of people see morality as key. These are things I would put in the philosophical side of the NOMA divide.

I suggest that no one term is "key" to the Cultural War. Instead, I believe it is the intersection of two fundamental sets of these keys.

Let's call the first set "belief-based" and the other "reality-based".

Please excuse my biased names for these sets, but be assured, I do not equate reality with Ultimate Truth.

In a lot of ways belief (or "consciousness") has the upper hand in creating Truth. If everyone believes something exists, its status in the reality-based relm is immaterial.

If we embrace NOMA, these two sets don't conflict. The Truths are separate.

If we don't embrace NOMA (or try to sneak across borders) we have a Culture War, IMO.

Belief-based arguments are very powerful and can create Truth.

Reality-based arguments are limited to those that can be demonstrated well enough to convince skeptics and general non-believers.

You might be able to claim both sets if you clearly define and quantify your term "consciousness" and provide ample evidence (i.e. repeatable experiments) to convince skeptics (like me).

And, btw, I am not impressed at all with what "academically mainstream philosophers" think when it comes to my reality-based Truths.

However, my belief-based Truth system is alway open to new ideas.

Provoking Thought

M.C. said...

TP,

If you don't like the word "consciousness" then we can replace it with "experiences" or "subjectivity" instead. Do those words work better for you?

Jason said...

How does this solve the problem of the culture wars ? Maybe I need to read it through again ?

It seems that your account is just a different materialist approach to the problem. A novel one, but no different in type to something like Lee Smolin's approach AFAICS.

It is an interesting idea though. How would you test it ?

Thought Provoker said...

M.C.

Thank you for your response.

I don't think I am hung up on your choice of word. Quite the opposite. All these words are principly philosophical. They lack quantification. Can we do blind experiments? Can you show a physical reality beyond a reasonable doubt.

I suspect any concept or term that meets my requirements won't meet yours because of what I call the NOMA divide.

Thought Provoker said...

Hi Jason,

You asked...
How does this solve the problem of the culture wars ? Maybe I need to read it through again ?

Don't bother looking, it doesn't solve it. But it could help focus the attacks.

It seems that your account is just a different materialist approach to the problem. A novel one, but no different in type to something like Lee Smolin's approach AFAICS.

Time to play the spin game via terms. Let's see you say...
"materialist" versus ?????

I say...
"reality-based" versus "belief-based"

NOMA lets you have multiple Truths thus validating your beliefs as a "Truth".

If you reject NOMA, you have to find common ground. Make your own proposal that doesn't require prior belief. I will listen.


It is an interesting idea though. How would you test it ?


This is where Dr. Dembski's math and Dr. Behe's research come in to play. Of course we will be looking for experments and calculations that we all can perform and get similar results.

M.C. said...

TP,

So you are denying that there is subjective experience now, because you cannot measure it with a ruler or a scale?

Thought Provoker said...

M.C. - Under NOMA, using "subjective experience" to determine personal Truth is perfectly acceptable.

With OMA, there is only one Ultimate Truth and it can't be subjective by definition.

M.C. said...

TP,

Where do human beings interact with concepts of "OMA", "objectivity" and the like? I would suggest that all of those things play themselves out within our subjectivity (and not always identically in every person).

You talk about blind experiments as a touchstone. Fine. But then I ask, who is conducting these blind experiments, who is looking at the results?

Smokey said...

TP,
Interesting post, but you are missing something important. There are not 2 magisteria in this political debate, but 3.

The magisterium you are missing is the one promoted by Dembski, Behe, et al., and it is based on the dishonest pretension that what they do is part of science. It is a rejection of science, but they conflate it with science, making it overlapping.

Dembski has never (and I predict will never) apply his math to any real biological system to generate a single new datum. Most of his math (which doesn't impress many mathematicians, btw) is based on ridiculously false assumptions.

Behe, in some ways, is an even sorrier case. He used to generate data, but no longer does, despite having a laboratory, requisite skills, and access to DI money. I'm surprised that given your introduction to the political debate in the Dover case, you missed Behe's explicit rejection of one of the most fundamental aspects of the scientific method: that your primary job to try and falsify your own hypothesis.

Add that to Dembski's withdrawal from Dover after bragging about how damaging it would be to us scientists to get us on the stand, and the conclusion is obvious. Dembski, Behe, et al. simply have no faith that their hypotheses are correct. If they did, they'd be eager to try and falsify them, and whether or not they were successful, they'd still produce new data that they could publish in the primary ("peer-reviewed" is the wrong criterion to use) scientific literature.

Thought Provoker said...

M.C. asks "who is conducting these blind experiments, who is looking at the results?"

The purpose of blind experiments (especially double-blind experiments) is an attempt to make your question moot.

Smokey indicated "There are not 2 magisteria in this political debate, but 3The magisterium you are missing is the one promoted by Dembski, Behe, et al., and it is based on the dishonest pretension that..."

Smokey, as you probably know, you and I have similar opinions of the some aspects of the ID Movement.

That being said, I do not insist that there is only two magisteria. I am also aware things are not as black and white as I am presenting. Too many people are quite adept at saying one thing while believing another.

My main point is to provoke all sides into thinking about the implications and possible contradictions of their positions.

Matthew said...

TP,

There can be no experiment without someone (consciousness) observing the outcome of the experiment.

Subjectivity is built into the very structure of everything we know and do.

Smokey said...

Matthew,

Do you know what "double-blind" means?

In a double-blind trial, can an observer's subjective biases influence the results in the way the observer (subconsciously, even) wishes?

If so, how?

Thought Provoker said...

Thank you smokey

Mathew, here is a link
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Double-blind

Matthew said...

Smokey,

Yes, I am extremely familiar with study methodology, including unblinded, single blinded and even double-blinded.

AFAIK only parapsychology and medical trials are usually conducted in a double-blind manner, while most other science experiments tend to be single-blind or unblinded.

Nonetheless, we still know nothing about any experiments that get conducted until we use our perception / consciousness to look at the results.

Science is a system of thought, so banishing the fact that our thinking is experienced (and not measured with a scale or calipers) means that subjectivity is involved.

In any event, it seems that we are just talking past each other, so I think I'll bow out of this thread.

Smokey said...

Matthew wrote:
"AFAIK only parapsychology and medical trials are usually conducted in a double-blind manner, while most other science experiments tend to be single-blind or unblinded."

Then you really don't know much. For example, I give coverslips of wild-type and mutant cells to the postdoc who picks a subset of cells to use in the experiment, but he does so without knowing which is which. He then codes the coverslips and gives them back to me for analysis. We don't break each other's codes until after we have done the quantitative analysis.

Most scientists do this whenever subjectivity can influence the selection of an experimental sample.

Thought Provoker said...

Hi Matthew,

You wrote...
it seems that we are just talking past each other, so I think I'll bow out of this thread.

I don't blame you for bowing out. I have done it myself. On the chance you look in again, I have a suggestion.

It takes two to talk past each other. In my Opening Post and subsequent comments I have requested counter proposals. Since you didn't state your proposal you leave me no choice but to guess.

If you are trying to suggest that reality is based on the observer and that the ultimate reality is based on the Ultimate Obserser, then you need to state it so we can discuss it.

Trying to manipulate others into making your proposal for you is usually an exercise in futility.

Joe G said...

smokey:
that your primary job to try and falsify your own hypothesis.

Then tell us- how can one falsify the premise that the bacterial flagellum arose via culled genetic accidents?

Then you can tell us how to falsify the premise that chimps and humans diverged from a common ancestor via culled genetic accidents.

Ya see Dr Behe has proposed an experiment that would falsify an ID icon, yet I bet that you could not do the same for the theory of evolution. BTW Behe proposed that experiment during the Dover fiasco.

Then there is "The Privileged Planet"- plenty of scientific data with predictions to boot!

And in the end, smokey, if YOU really wanted to refute ID all you have to do is to substantiate your position of sheer dumb luck. But seeing that you can't all you are left with is blatant misrepresentations.

Thought Provoker said...

Hi JoeG and welcome,
I doubt that you will get a response from Smokey. Normal blog etiquette suggests that you address, in some fashion, the Opening Post.

Smokey was talking to me when he made the quoted remark. I suggest there is plenty of material in my opening post that you can question, belittle, etc without trying to pull Smokey's proposal into the mix.