Is Evolution Good Enough? It Beats Us.

One of the bad arguments that I’ve frequently seen from creationists
is the argument that some biological system is *too good* to be a possible result of an evolutionary process. On its face, this seems like it’s not a mathematical argument. But it actually is, and math is key to showing what the argument really is, and what’s wrong with it.


Let’s look at an example of this argument. Last week, on the “ID the Future” blog, Cornelius Hunter posted an article titled [“Design Science”][hunter] using exactly this argument:
>Darwinists say that evolution created the many biological marvels such as the
>bat’s biosonar and the fly’s vision system. They say that an undirected and
>haphazard process just happened to outwit the best scientists and engineers in
>the world–time and time again. According to Darwinists biological structures
>with unknown function are useless and an obvious sign of an inept, undirected
>process. But biological structures with awesome designs are, on the other hand,
>also supposed to be the product of undirected biological change, such as
>mutations.
>
>Claiming that the bat’s biosonar or the fly’s vision system is the result of
>evolution is more speculation than explanation. In fact, that is putting is
>nicely. How silly it would be to unequivocally claim that the most advanced,
>complex designs must have arisen as a consequence undirected biological change.
>A sequence of mutations just happened to produce the most accurate sonar system
>known to humanity.
>
>This is so silly, in fact, that Darwinists usually refrain from saying this. It
>is their theory, but more often than not Darwinists use the more
>plausible-sounding Lamarckian language. The designs, they say, arose as a
>consequence of selection pressure. This explanation violates their own
>principle that biological change must not be initiated or crafted in response
>to need. According to evolution, biological change must be undirected.
>Selection must play a role only after the biological change occurs, not before.
>
>Nor is gradualism a remedy to the problem. Construction of biosonar and
>advanced image processing, one undirected mutation at a time, is no better than
>all at once. In both cases the undirected biological change must hit upon the
>same phenomenal design. Gradualism, however, has the added burden that there
>must exist a very long sequence of finely graded useful intermediates, leading
>to the final design. We know of no such sequence, but we must believe it
>exists. All very amazing for such a lousy process.
There are two problems with this kind of argument. One is really mathematical,
and one is psychological. Let me get the psych one out of the way first. In our
observations of the universe, so far, we are the smartest living beings that we
know about. We tend to be very impressed by our own intelligence, and the things
that we have accomplished as a result. A lot of people, such as our friend Corny
in the quoted article, believe that this means that intelligence can find the
best solution to every problem, and that since we are the most intelligent, that
means that *we* can/will find the best solution to every problem. If something
in nature exceeds our ability to imagine/design a solution, then it
*necessarily* must have been created by something *more* intelligent than us. That’s a very inflated view of intelligence – and in particular, an incredibly inflated and egotistical view of humanity. It’s basically an assertion that *human understanding is a fundamental limit of natural systems*. If we can’t understand it, it can’t exist. It we didn’t think it up first, then it couldn’t have just happened naturally. I find it ridiculous to claim that somehow nothing in nature, no natural process, can every produce a better result than a human brain. However, this is ultimately a subjective argument; Cornelius and people like him believe that we belong on some kind of pedestal; people like me don’t.
The mathematical argument, however, is not subjective. Evolution can be viewed, mathematically, as an *optimization problem*. An optimization problem is, essentially, a search; we have some problem that has multiple solutions, and we want to find *the best* solution by some metric.
Optimization is a major topic in applied mathematics, and there are quite literally thousands of books published on it. There are numerous techniques that can be used to solve optimization problems. One of them is the evolutionary approach. Evolutionary approaches work in cases where the fitness landscape is basically smooth and continuous – that is, landscapes without gaps or breaks.
If the landscape is suitable, evolutionary approaches produce amazing results. For example, in a [timetabling optimization problem][timetable], there are tremendous results from evolutionary approaches – the evolutionary systems produce *better* results than the hand-optimized human ones. We simply *do not* perform as well at solving this type of problem as the evolutionary computation approach.
Evolutionary approaches to optimization problems do tend to suffer from one problem: they’ll often settle for a local minimum instead of a global. For example, in the curve below, if the optimization problem is getting the red ball to the lowest position, in general, an evolutionary approach will have no problem getting the ball to point 2, which is a good local minimum; but it will have trouble getting over the hump after 2 to find the global minimum at point 3.
minima.jpg
There *is* a solution to that problem which works most of the time called *simulated annealing*. Simulated annealing introduces *noise* into the computation whenever it seems to be settling into a minimum; the idea is if you find yourself coming to a minimum point, you try adding a bunch of extra energy (mutation) to see if there’s local maximum you can push yourself over. If we look at nature, we find that [something very like simulated annealing occurs during natural evolution!][rate] When the environment suddenly changes in a way that is hostile, the mutation rate of bacteria *increases* beyond what would normally be healthy; this gives them to ability to “find” solutions to the environmental change that put them into danger. The usual relatively slow rate at which mutations occur isn’t enough to produce the change they need to find a solution; so they start using a faster, more error-prone copy technique in reproduction, which pushes them over the local peaks that might block paths to some change that could allow them to survive.
What’s interesting about simulated annealing is that the technique was developed in the 1980s by a brilliant mathematician named Scott Kirkpatric. It turns out that the work of this brilliant man was *preceeded* by the random process of nature. Bacteria have been doing this since before Kirkpatric thought of the idea. The brilliance of a human was beaten by the randomness of a natural process.
So, why would a natural evolutionary process *not* find optimal results? Well, there are a couple of arguments, all of which end up falling down:
* There’s the Dembski “no free lunch” nonsense, which I’ve [discussed before on this blog][nfl]. Basically, it says that evolution can’t succeed because no fitness function will work on all possible landscapes. Yippee. If NFL were true, evolutionary computation wouldn’t work either. It does.
* There’s the Berlinski argument that there’s one path to success, and it’s pretty much impossible for a random process like evolution to find it. No good either; evolution doesn’t follow a single path, nor does it search for a fixed solution. Bats happened to have evolved sonar, which makes them very well-suited towards the nocturnal insect-hunter role that they evolved into. Their cousins, mice and rates, evolved in a *different* direction. From any point, an evolutionary process can follow *many* different paths, and if *any* survive, then the evolutionary process finds *a* solution. The ancestors of bats were rodents that followed *one path*; todays house-mice are rodents whose ancestors followed a different one. Both are equally valid “solutions” in evolutionary terms.
* There’s the local minimum problem: evolutionary processes are good at finding “downhill” paths to a minimum (optimal) result; but they don’t climb hills well. So they can only find solutions that are pretty much all downhill – a clear downward path from a starting point to an optimum with no bumps along the way. If you think about curves on a 2D graph, most curves have bumps. Again, it’s not a problem: evolution isn’t two dimensional. The “fitness landscape” has many dimensions – not one or two, but *hundreds* of dimensions. The more dimensions you add to a curve, the *less* likely you are to wind up in a point where no motion in any direction in any of your dimensions is downhill. You may wind up following a *much* longer path to get to the minimum; and you may wind up going in unexpected directions and arriving at a surprising minimum; but it’s very rare to find a point in a high-dimensional landscape that’s a true local minimum in all dimensions. And even in the rare cases where they do, approaches like simulated annealing provide an escape route.
* There’s the gradualism problem. If you can only make tiny changes, how can you wind up with something so sophisticated? See the previous bullet: in a complex landscape, paths can be quite surprising. Keep changing, and you can find yourself in amazing places – exactly as we see in nature. And mix in the fact that the biological evolutionary process is following many paths, and it becomes pretty much *inevitable* that sometimes, you’ll find that random process winding up with an amazing result.
Ultimately, the problem with Corny’s argument is illustrated by his very last sentence: “All very amazing for such a lousy process.” Evolution *isn’t* a lousy process; it’s a brilliant one. It’s an example of a natural optimization process that does an excellent job of traversing the biological fitness landscape. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a *better* optimization process for a constantly changing fitness landscape.
[hunter]: http://www.idthefuture.com/2006/09/design_science.html
[timetable]: http://citeseer.ist.psu.edu/corne94fast.html
[rate]: http://gateway.nlm.nih.gov/MeetingAbstracts/102244851.html
[nfl]: http://scienceblogs.com/goodmath/2006/06/dembski_and_no_free_lunch_with_2.php

0 thoughts on “Is Evolution Good Enough? It Beats Us.

  1. Dave S.

    Mumon –
    Thanks for reminding me of this classic. I fooled a lot of my friends with it back in grade school, a long time ago. ūüôā

    Reply
  2. MattF

    The high-dimensionality argument is a good one, but I think that there’s a little subtlety in really getting it right. If you look at the surface-to-volume ratio for an N-dimensional sphere, you’ll see that it’s proportional to N. In other words, as the dimensionality increases, more and more of the sphere is ‘near’ the surface. This suggests that ‘most’ paths that a constrained optimization algorithm will try only explore a small subset of the available dimensions. But this is OK because there’s still a large number of choices of possible paths.

    Reply
  3. BMurray

    It’s important to realize that evolution is an optimization mechanism that really shines in a problem space we almost never have to deal with (or one we go to great lengths to avoid): it optimizes response to a problem space that not only changes, but changes based on the opmtized responses of everything else. That is, the landscape your are searching is comprised of the output of every other self-optimizing entity in the environment as well as the static ones.
    This problem is of a level of complexity that we would never dream of designing a solution to.

    Reply
  4. Anton Mates

    Minor quibble–bats aren’t particularly closely related to rodents. Traditionally they’ve been placed near primates and flying lemurs, but AFAIK current genetic studies place them (rather surprisingly, but lots of current mammalian cladistics is surprising) near carnivores & artiodactyls in the Laurasiatheria clade.
    But if you want to use an example of alternate evolutionary paths re: bats, you could compare the echolocating Microchiroptera to the flying foxes, who don’t echolocate but don’t need to thanks to their diet of fruit. Or the two different classes of echolocating bats, those with constant-frequency calls and those with frequency-modulated calls. The former call type is better for relative speed measurement; the latter is better for detailed spatial mapping. And each allows the species which use it to make a very good living in a particular niche.
    You have my sympathy in advance for the arguments IDers will make about how simulated annealing and evolutionary algorithms aren’t anything like real evolution, because there were people involved.

    Reply
  5. ParanoidMarvin

    “human understanding is a fundamental limit of natural systems”
    It’s even worse than that. It’s a claim that human understanding at the instance the speaker is making this statement is the limit of natural systems. According to this logic, DNA could only have come into existence when Watson and Crick thought it up.

    Reply
  6. Chris

    You seem to have overlooked Hunter’s grossly dishonest – or even more grossly ignorant – conflation of mutation with evolutionary change in a species. (Of course, any discussion of “a species” is necessarily vague. Organisms exist. Species are sometimes-useful abstractions we use to talk about them.)

    This explanation violates their own principle that biological change must not be initiated or crafted in response to need. According to evolution, biological change must be undirected. Selection must play a role only after the biological change occurs, not before.

    Mutation and natural selection are different processes that work *together* to change a species over evolutionary periods of time. Mutation is undirected: you get all kinds of mutation, useful and not. Mostly not. But with a lot of organisms in the population you get lucky once in a while.
    Selection pressure is what makes sure that the unfavorable mutations are eliminated and the favorable mutations are spread – and if they’re favorable *enough*, eventually fixed (present in the whole population). Unlike mutation, selection is very much responsive to the organisms’ needs and how they fit into their environment. Cows with long sharp teeth don’t survive very well; neither do tigers without them.
    Populations contain variability – not every individual in them is the same. That variability is crucial to the process of evolution, a point which has been stressed by pretty much every evolutionary theorist ever.
    All of this is freshman-level biology at best, and there’s no excuse for someone writing on the subject to be ignorant of it – and *certainly* not to attempt to criticize a theory they don’t even understand.
    Hunter deliberately equivocates over whether “biological change” means the first appearance of a mutation, or its subsequent propagation through a species’ gene pool. The principles he’s talking about say that *mutation* must occur undirected and not in response to need, but he invites the reader to confuse that with *changes in species* being not in response to need, which is absurd. Most mutations don’t change the species; a few do. Which is which depends very much on the needs of the members of that species.

    Reply
  7. Doug

    As I recall advocates of ID state something to the effect that ‘bacterial flagella’ are intelligently designed.
    The abstract of ‘In situ structure of the complete Treponema primitia flagellar motor’ in Nature by Gavin E Murphy states in part “The bacterial flagellar motor is an amazing nanomachine: built from approximately 25 different proteins, it uses an electrochemical ion gradient to drive rotation at speeds of up to 300 Hz (refs 1, 2). The flagellar motor consists of a fixed, membrane-embedded, torque-generating stator and a typically bidirectional, spinning rotor that changes direction in response to chemotactic signals … The stator assembly, revealed for the first time, possessed 16-fold symmetry and was connected directly to the rotor, C ring and a novel P-ring-like structure …” The text contains diagrams.
    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v442/n7106/abs/nature05015.html
    Such a structure may be mathematically represented, but this could be done through trial and error bio-evolutional experimental mathematics such as game theory with energy exchanges.

    Reply
  8. Wesley Cowan

    If I remember correctly, the opening strategy for backgammon was seriously revised, once self-learning robots were taught to play. Apparently, evolutionary learning systems were able to come up with a solution that humans hadn’t devised for about 1500 years.
    Humans always being able to find the best solutions, indeed…

    Reply
  9. postblogger

    Corny indulges in a little legerdemain to get his point across. Specifically, he frames the argument on his terms by using one idea (undirected) instead of two (random but selected). This is a neat trick; undirected allows (but does not demand) selected, but it can also be used as a synonym for random. So, when Corny writes ‘How silly it would be to unequivocally claim that the most advanced, complex designs must have arisen as a consequence of undirected biological change’, he wants us to consciously associate undirected with selected (and hence Darwin), but unconsciously to read it as random (and hence unlikely).
    Moving on, he writes ‘This explanation violates their own principle that biological change must not be initiated or crafted in response to need.’ Where’s that principle from? Bizarro World? Our principle is exactly that biological change IS ‘crafted in response to need’ (sic). That’s the Natural Selection bit of ‘Variation under Natural Selection’.
    Incidentally, ID is correct in saying that echolocation isn’t very likely. That’s why it’s taken 5 billion years.

    Reply
  10. Joe Shelby

    I’d have also mentioned the other counter to Berlinski: convergent evolution, where animals (or plants) long since differentiated each separately evolve some common adaptation. Here, there’s one shared seemingly optimal solution, yet acquired through different means and mutations throwing out any idea of “one true path”.

    Reply
  11. Torbjörn Larsson

    Speaking of eyes and gradualism, there are plenty of simulations where evolutionary algorithms builds eyes from mere lightsensitive cells. Estimates say eyes have developed independently about 40 to 60 times. ( http://www.simonyi.ox.ac.uk/dawkins/WorldOfDawkins-archive/Dawkins/Work/Articles/1995-06-16peepers.shtml )
    So let’s talk specifically about “advanced image processing”. Our eyes have the nerves topmost in the retina and the optic nerve passing through it. Ooops! While molluscs have the more effective straightforward arrangement. Why is that?
    Actually, our eyes are outgrowths of the brain where former more or less passivated ciliary receptors were again used for more complicated work, while the main receptors invertebrates use, the rhabdomeric, was in turn relegated to support functions. ( http://pharyngula.org/index/weblog/comments/rhabdomeric_and_ciliary_eyes/ ) Doesn’t seem like the most straightforward constructive process either, does it?

    Reply
  12. Thony C.

    The strangest aspect of this particular ID arguement is that it isn’t really an arguement at all. If you strip away the verbiage all they do is to make the catgorical statement that “life is too complex it can’t possibly have evolved”. The only sensible answer to this statement is just to ask “Why not?”

    Reply
  13. keije

    You missed a very important (though probably non-mathematical) premise of his entire argument.
    [quote]
    Claiming that the bat’s biosonar or the fly’s vision system is the result of evolution is more speculation than explanation. In fact, that is putting is nicely. How silly it would be to unequivocally claim that the most advanced, complex designs must have arisen as a consequence undirected biological change. A sequence of mutations just happened to produce the most accurate sonar system known to humanity.
    [/quote]
    1. Speculation is a very weak subtype of explanation, so he can’t claim one without the other
    2. He claims “the most advanced, complex” and such, he assumes that those things are in fact the most advanced and complex, which implicitly mean we know everythig about all mechanisms in existance
    3. He doesn’t even make an attempt to back up claim about bats having “most accurate sonar system”, dolphins got a pretty good one, we got pretty good ones produced
    4. And of course he assumes that evolution somehow implies that solutions it find are somehow the best, they are just the first one that worked well enough

    Reply
  14. Paras Chopra

    “the mutation rate of bacteria increases beyond what would normally be healthy”
    How would the bacteria know when the environment changes? They are completely dependent upon thier genetic program which has no foresight of the environment.
    This is just another way of putting the question: Is there any such thing as evolvability? Can organism be more evolvable than some other organism?
    I do not think simulated annealing works in nature the way you have described. There must be other ways to it.

    Reply
  15. Alexei K

    Paras, a simple hypothesis (from a man with minimal genetics knowledge) would be that there is a pre-determined response to the change in environment (i.e. energy supply drops). To claim a problem with this is to claim that we know what every DNA/RNA/whatever sequence does, and we don’t, all we have is genome maps (some complete some not), which are ways of identifying all the sequences, and accounting for their presence and location. We don’t know jack about what most of them acutally do, so called “junk DNA” is a good example of that.
    BTW sorry about me putting wrong thing for name in my last post (keije) brainskip combined email and name fields.

    Reply
  16. Marc

    On a slightly different note, the existence of local minima is a strong argument *against* intelligent design: a self respecting God would not settle for anything less than the best.
    A good example of a local minima is the retina of vertebrae, as comment upon by Torbjörn Larsson

    Reply
  17. Anton Mates

    How would the bacteria know when the environment changes? They are completely dependent upon thier genetic program which has no foresight of the environment.

    It doesn’t require foresight to react to current environmental shifts. Bacteria respond to their environment, just like humans or tomato plants (albeit in much simpler ways.) They accelerate their division rate when more nutrients are available, encyst themselves defensively if the environment dries up, and so forth. And as Alexei says, such responses are themselves genetically programmed.

    This is just another way of putting the question: Is there any such thing as evolvability? Can organism be more evolvable than some other organism?

    Sure. For instance, organisms that reproduce sexually, reproduce more often, or have (a few) more mutations per generation are more evolvable.
    Incidentally, I’m not sure the paper Mark cited above counts as an example of “evolved evolvability”, because the increased mutation rate of the bacteria is apparently caused directly by the effect of the antibiotic on their DNA replication; they’re actively not raising the mutation rate in response.
    But there are plenty of other examples. For instance, many organisms can reproduce both sexually and asexually, and do one or the other depending on environmental conditions; when reproducing sexually, their lineage is more “evolvable” because genetic recombination is permitted. (And genetic recombination is a safer way of acquiring variation than a high mutation rate, because many mutations are harmful.) Indeed, the main reason for sexual reproduction (or conjugation in bacteria) is to increase evolvability.
    Another classic example is the vertebrate immune system; when you get infected, your immune cells enter a “hypermutation” phase and (usually) rapidly evolve recognition of that pathogen. Again, this is a genetically programmed response, although neither the exact pathogen nor the exact immune receptors evolved to bind it were foreseen by your DNA.

    Reply
  18. David Harmon

    Evolvability also can come from group diversity. This sort acts like a renewable resource — the more diversity a species has, the more likely that it can answer any given challenge. In doing so, it sacrifices some of its diversity, as individuals get carved away by selection. (In an extreme case, “barely enough” individuals survive, yielding “founder effects”.) Diversity can be rebuilt over time as new mutations accumulate, but that’s usually slow.

    Reply
  19. Paras Chopra

    So, as described in the comments above, two processes may substitute for the simulated annealing:
    1. Increase in mutation/recombination rate via sexual combination or hypermutation or some other process
    2. Increase in diversity of an organism (which in turn is dependent on the 1st point).
    BTW, See http://www.paraschopra.com/blog/post/biohacking/199/Evolvability-It-is-a-misnomer-or-the-basis-of-life for my objections against evolvability.

    Reply
  20. Anton Mates

    Well, increased mutation/recombination rates grant “evolvability,” but that’s not necessarily the same as simulated annealing unless they increase temporarily in response to the population’s settling onto a local, non-optimal fitness maximum. And AFAIK no organism’s ever been shown to do that. It’d be awfully difficult to pull off, since you’d either need to sample the genetic diversity of your conspecifics or somehow keep a record of the diversity of your ancestors.
    Again, I don’t think the antibiotic resistance example Mark cited qualifies as simulated annealing. Even if they were actively raising their mutation rates in response to the antibiotic–which they don’t seem to be doing–there’s still no indication that they were at a local fitness maximum in the new environment. Indeed, it’s more likely that they would be at a local maximum in the original environment, since they’d had many generations to optimize themselves for it.
    I’ll leave a response to your blog post over there, as soon as I can think of something clever to say….

    Reply
  21. Shuusaku

    keije:
    “4. And of course he assumes that evolution somehow implies that solutions it find are somehow the best, they are just the first one that worked well enough”
    Good point. Evolution may very well find a local minima. It may just be the case that it find a better local minima than just chance itself.
    About fossils, transition states may very well be very short lived. When a local minima has been found we may find fossil evidence of it but walking downhill goes very fast.

    Reply
  22. Stephen

    Other than Humans and Evolution, there is another intelligence. For example, i wrote a computer program to solve a particular game. It performs better than i do at the game, by any metric. It’s faster, it produces better solutions. It makes fewer errors. All this in direct contradiction to Star Trek, where Spock claims that his chess program shouldn’t perform better than he does.
    Does my program ‘know’ something i don’t? Not really. It’s just much faster at performing the search, and can remember the search space in perfect detail to a much larger extent than i can.
    One day, i’ll write a genetic version. It won’t outperform my current solution, but it will likely learn things i don’t know.

    Reply
  23. Xanthir, FCD

    Stephen:
    I wouldn’t discount the genetic algorithm. Unless you’ve got a fairly complete strategy already, a genetic algorithm can suss out things that you never even thought of.
    There’s an article over at talkorigins on genetic programming (or evolutionary programming, same thing), that shows *tons* of instances in industry, science, and even military appications where genetic algorithms were able to do better than even certified experts in the field.

    Reply
  24. Alexander Finch

    I’m a young-earth creationist. I believe that the argument refuted here is a straw-man, although I won’t accuse the choice of a weak article as being intentional.
    Evolution is a theory. We know that biological life (what constitutes life I’ll leave for another day) can mutate during reproduction. We also know that these mutations occur in genetic information that determines biology. We know that this can have catastrophic or beneficial effects. All of that knowledge does not prove that our current ecosystem came about through Darwinian evolution. At best, to one who isn’t a young earth creationist, it is circumstantial evidence, as are fossile records and genetic similarities between lifeforms. There is no undeniable proof of Darwinian evolution.
    I myself program artificial life. The program I work on has no explicit fitness function. Creatures mutate, sometimes for the better.
    I have two arguments for the existence of God to share today:
    The first is that you’re conscious. I know how my artificial lifeforms evolve to make more intelligent decisions. I know their input of the locations, colors, etc.of nearby creatures. I know how that input is processed through an artificial neural network and eventually turned into movement, eating, mating, etc. I do not know how they could possibly evolve to be conscious. Consciousness, the fact that we actually experience our world instead of acting like my creatures, taking input and producing output, is unexplainable. In case any clarification is needed, I’m not saying that evolution cannot explain a cut on the finger causing a person to act as though they’re in pain, pulling the finger away and cradling it. I’m saying that there’s no evolutionary reason that said person should be bothered by that pain, instead of simply reacting to the input of pain and producing the output of protecting a finger. I believe that this is unrepresentable physically (even if there is also brain activity associated with pain). All of our physical world can be broken down into more basic processes. Movement is caused by muscles contracting. Muscles contract by chemical reactions. Those chemical reactions are triggered by nerves, which are one type of neuron carying messages from the brain. Those messages are just more nerve communication by electrical and chemical reactions. I do not know, however, where to begin in trying to break consciousness down into lower-level processesses. It seems innate within humans. This is because it comes from more than chemical reactions. Consciousness, I believe, is of the soul.
    My second argument is a subset of the Intelligent Design argument. ID theory takes a skeptical look at the likelihood that we should exist by means that can be explained scientifically and argues that our being here must instead be by design. From my experience, it seems that most ID proponents focus their argument against the likelihood of evolution. I feel that our current level of understanding of biological processes and our knowledge of genetics is insufficient for me to say “such and such could never happen because it would take many mutations in a single generation to be useful.” Notwithstanding, I feel that the likelihood of our universe being able to support life is even smaller. Our universe has many “universal constants” these are values that do not change throughout our universe or over time. For example, the maximum speed of light is a universal constant. Also, the charges of electrons and protons are constants. Now, there is no reason that anyone knows to say why these constants are what they are. Why shouldn’t the gravitational constant be one hundred thousand times what it is? Would life be possible under such conditions? I suspect that virtually all matter in our universe would be pulled together very tightly. What if electrons and protons were both positively charged? That would’ve been bad for us. I am not a physicist, but I’ve heard that even slight changes to many universal constants would render life as we know it impossible. The fact that these constants could have had any value, infininetly greater or smaller, and that despite this they’re so perfectly tuned for our existence, is significant.
    As one last theological note in response to Marc’s September 21, 2006 comment, ‘And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.’ (2 Corinthians 12:9 New King James Version).

    Reply
  25. Torbjörn Larsson

    “I believe that the argument refuted here is a straw-man”
    But in what follows you never define nor refute any strawman.
    “I have two arguments for the existence of God”
    Whether a god exists or not does not affect the evidence for evolution.
    “As one last theological note”, you can note for your future cogitation that theology isn’t under discussion here – evolution is.

    Reply
  26. Jonathan Vos Post

    In Alexander Finch’s penultimate paragraph, he drags in the Anthropic Principle, without naming it, citing it, or defining it correctly.
    That is itself a controversial topic in Cosmology, but in no way reduces the credibility of Evolution by Natural Selection, any more than does the controversy about whether or not Perleman solved the Poincare Conjecture in no way undermines the Genetic Algorithm theorems proven by John Holland in 1976.
    See, to begin, this month’s New Scientist article on “islands” in the multiverse with very different fundamental constants, yet having enough complexity for life. See the articles below.
    In Science Fiction (the idea’s been around for some time) see the late Dr. Isaac Asimov’s “The Gods Themselves” with a 2nd universe that has a different fine structure constant, hence different isotopes, which decay with great energy when transported to our universe.
    =========================
    High Energy Physics – Phenomenology, abstract
    hep-ph/0604027
    From: Graham D. Kribs [view email]
    Date: Tue, 4 Apr 2006 06:47:37 GMT (54kb)
    A Universe Without Weak Interactions
    Authors: Roni Harnik, Graham D. Kribs, Gilad Perez
    Comments: 27 pages; 4 figures
    Journal-ref: Phys.Rev. D74 (2006) 035006
    A universe without weak interactions is
    constructed that undergoes big-bang nucleosynthesis,
    matter domination, structure formation, and star
    formation. The stars in this universe are able to burn
    for billions of years, synthesize elements up to iron,
    and undergo supernova explosions, dispersing heavy
    elements into the interstellar medium. These
    definitive claims are supported by a detailed analysis
    where this hypothetical “Weakless Universe” is matched
    to our Universe by simultaneously adjusting Standard
    Model and cosmological parameters. For instance,
    chemistry and nuclear physics are essentially
    unchanged. The apparent habitability of the Weakless
    Universe suggests that the anthropic principle does
    not determine the scale of electroweak breaking, or
    even require that it be smaller than the Planck scale,
    so long as technically natural parameters may be
    suitably adjusted. Whether the multi-parameter
    adjustment is realized or probable is dependent on the
    ultraviolet completion, such as the string landscape.
    Considering a similar analysis for the cosmological
    constant, however, we argue that no adjustments of
    other parameters are able to allow the cosmological
    constant to raise up even remotely close to the Planck
    scale while obtaining macroscopic structure. The
    fine-tuning problems associated with the electroweak
    breaking scale and the cosmological constant therefore
    appear to be qualitatively different from the
    perspective of obtaining a habitable universe.
    Full-text: PostScript, PDF, or Other formats
    ===================
    Then see the critique:
    Problems in a weakless universe
    L. Clavelli, R. E. White III
    whiose PDF in the arXives is also linked to from
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weakless_Universe
    Weakless Universe
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    Jump to: navigation, search
    The Weakless Universe is a hypothetical universe that
    contains no weak interactions, but is otherwise very
    similar to our own universe. In particular, the
    Weakless Universe is constructed to have nuclear
    physics and chemistry identical to standard nuclear
    physics and chemistry. The dynamics of the Weakless
    Universe includes a period of big bang nuclear
    synthesis, star formation, stars that burn for
    billions of years, stellar nuclear synthesis of heavy
    elements and also supernovae that distribute the heavy
    elements into the interstellar medium.
    Motivation and Anthropics
    The strength of the weak interaction is an outstanding
    problem in modern particle physics. A theory should
    ideally explain why the weak interaction is 32 orders
    of magnitude stronger than gravity; this is known as
    the hierarchy problem.
    There are various models that address the hierarchy
    problem in a dynamical and natural way, for example,
    supersymmetry, technicolor, warped extra dimensions,
    etc. An alternative approach to explaining the
    hierarchy problem is to invoke the anthropic
    principle. Within this approach one assumes that there
    are many other patches of the Universe (or Multiverse)
    in which physics is very different. In particular one
    can assume that the “landscape” of universes contains
    ones where the weak force has a different strength
    compared to our own. In such a scenario observers
    would presumably evolve wherever they can. If the
    observed strength of the weak force is then vital for
    the emergence of observers, this would explain why the
    weak force is indeed observed with this strength. It
    was indeed argued by Barr and others that if one only
    allows the electroweak symmetry breaking scale to vary
    between universes, keeping all other parameters fixed,
    atomic physics would change in ways that would not
    allow life as we know it. Anthropic arguments have
    recently been boosted by the realization that string
    theory has many solutions, or vacua, dubbed the string
    landscape, and by Weinberg’s prediction of the
    cosmological constant by anthropic reasoning.
    The hypothetical weak interaction-less universe is
    meant to serve as a counter example to the anthropic
    approach to the hierarchy problem. In the weakless
    universe other parameters are varied as the
    electroweak breaking scale is changed. Indeed, string
    theory implies that the landscape is very big and
    diverse. The seeming habitability of the Weakless
    Universe implies that one cannot explain the hierarchy
    problem by anthropic reasoning alone, and that one
    must make strong assumptions about the available vacua
    in the landscape.
    Weakless stars
    Perhaps the biggest obstacle for a habitable Weakless
    Universe is the necessary existence of stars. Our sun
    works through burning two protons to deuterium, which
    proceeds through weak interactions. (Turning weak
    interactions off right now would thus shut off the
    sun.) However it is possible to imagine modified
    initial conditions that permit “weakless” stars. In
    particular, in the Weakless Universe of Harnik, et.
    al. there is a higher primordial abundance of
    deuterium. This obviates the need for the
    proton-proton reaction and permits long lived stars
    that work directly on deuterium-proton burning to
    helium, which proceeds through strong interactions.
    References
    * A Universe without Weak interactions – Roni
    Harnik, Graham Kribs, Gilad Perez –
    Phys.Rev.D74:035006,2006.
    * Problems in a weakless universe – L. Clavelli,
    R. E. White III
    ==========================

    Reply
  27. Paras Chopra

    @Alexander Finch:
    “It seems innate within humans.”
    See, you yourself admit that the property of consciouness seems to be an exclusive property of humans. With this bias, how can you expect to discover or indeed define consciousness in your artificial creatures. Your whole argument is deflated by your admission of the exclusivity of consciousness.
    Moreover, as pointed in earlier comments, God existing or not has nothing to do with evolution.
    “My second argument is a subset of the Intelligent Design argument.”
    This is your version of anthropic principle. I ask you a question. If you admit God’s existance, then there has to be some reason why he has tweaked the universal constants in a specific way. Then, how can you imagine a universe where these universal constants are different? Would your so-called God exist if these universal constants are changed?

    Reply
  28. Alexander Finch

    In response to Torbj√∂rn Larsson’s comments:
    The straw-man that I referred to was the article by Cornelius Hunter. I do not believe that it was a particularly strong case for ID theory. As I said before, I’m not enthusiastic about arguing against the possibility of evolution occurring (I myself believe that it can, but that it wasn’t the origin of species), but as far as such arguments go this is a particularly poor one. Hunter suggests that evolution can’t possibly come up with a better solution to a problem than scientists. Mark refutes it on the basis that genetic algorithms can do a remarkably good job at finding ideal solutions and have beaten out humans in the past. A better argument is also presented. Hunter argues that gradualism is extraordinarily unlikely to allow the evolution of complicated advantages because along any step of the way the mutations would not be beneficial and should not be favored. I think that argument is a more tenable position, but I would not take it up myself, as certain examples of such advantages have been suggested to not be an all-or-nothing after all. I don’t think that Mark addressed that argument (his last point for why evolution might not find optimal results, about gradualism, assumes that the downhill path is still being followed with individual mutations, but Hunter’s suggestion was that individual mutations toward sonar or advanced image processing may not follow that path).
    As to my posting an argument for God in response to an argument for evolution, I suppose after reading this page I felt that the general attitude was that this physical reality is all there is, and so I argued against what I felt was in the air. Specifically Marc’s comment, which I answered in my previous post, suggested that the existence of evolution implies that there is no God. You say that “Whether a god exists or not does not affect the evidence for evolution” but my answer was relevant in response to Marc. He says, I paraphrase, ‘if evolution then no self-respecting God’. I say there is a God, and provide a theological argument that against him choosing less than the best as indicating him to be imperfect. I leave it to the reader to decide what they want about the theory of evolution as the origin of species, which may change if they are convinced that God exists. I do make one direct argument against evolution when I say that conciousness can’t be explained by reductionism. I am implying that we are more than evolution, since evolution is a purely physical process.
    Jonathan Vos Post:
    You’re right that what I’m arguing seems like the Anthropic Principle. It’s been a few years since I’ve had philosophy and I didn’t remember the name of the argument (if I ever knew it). I am not a cosmologist, and it would take me awhile to learn details about all of the information you posted, but I do not believe that a multiverse has been proven and without having an infinite (or very large) number of shots at getting a universe with constants suitable to life as we know it we would still be very “lucky” to exist.
    Paras Chopra:
    One might be able to tell that I had a hard time of putting my definition of consciousness into words in my last post, but for my artificial creatures I would define it the same way. It happens that I have no means of measuring that, nor can I measure whether or not another person is conscious even though my bias is that they are. It is not because I’m biased that I have no means of quantifying consciousness. It is because even though I can look at the neural networks of my creatures there is simply no algorithm for measuring conciousness (and I believe there cannot be). My bias does not invalidate my argument that consciousness seems unexplainable by reductionism. I believed that machines could not be conscious before I heard that argument, but I’m not the only person who believes that argument, and I suspect that some of those other people concluded that machines can’t be conscious in response to coming to the belief that reductionism is not a sufficient explanation for consciousness, i.e. they aren’t as biased as I am.
    In your final paragraph you ask would God exist if these constants are changed. If by some means they should be changed then it is because God made the universe allowing and ordaining it to be so. If you’re asking what it would mean if he had set up different constants, it would mean that they served his purpose. If you then say, “then his decision wasn’t perfect if he could’ve chosen something else” (I may be departing from your point now. I don’t know exactly what you were getting at) then I say “first, he didn’t choose anything different, so it’s moot, and second, he is God and perfection is whatever he does.”

    Reply
  29. Torbjörn Larsson

    “The straw-man that I referred to was the article by Cornelius Hunter.”
    That is called dodging the ball. Mark choosed the article as an example of a type of argument, he defined that argument and he refuted it efficiently.
    Discussing creationism as such is OT to this thread. But sure, lets do some of that.
    1. You can’t prove creationism by disproving evolution.
    (BTW, you must first define species and speciation (“origin of species”) before you can discuss if evolutionary processes somehow find this a barrier.)
    2. You don’t define creationism.
    3. You have two arguments for creationism however.
    3.1 Consciousness.
    3.1.1 “I do not know how they could possibly evolve to be conscious.”
    Irrelevant for proving creationism. (And argument from incredulity, BTW.)
    3.1.2 “Consciousness, is unexplainable.”
    Irrelevant for proving creationism. (And argument from incredulity, BTW. Consciousness is studied by neuroscientists, and they find it to be a natural property of the brain nerve network. As little problematic as life being a property of metaboliting, selfreplicating organisms.)
    4.1 Finetuning
    “The fact that these constants could have had any value, infininetly greater or smaller, and that despite this they’re so perfectly tuned for our existence, is significant.”
    Yes, according to the Ikeda-Jefferys argument it argues significantly *against* design and for a naturalistic universe ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fine-tuned_universe ). The conclusion is that a creationist must somehow argue against finetuning. Yes, I know, seems hard, doesn’t it? ūüėČ
    Coming back to your new argument on Hunter:
    “but I would not take it up myself”
    Wisely, since most mutations are neutral, and neutral drift gives speciation too.
    “Hunter’s suggestion was that individual mutations toward sonar or advanced image processing may not follow that path”
    But here you go anyway, and the answer is as above. Not every individual need to move towards an optimum, the population does.
    “physical reality is all there is”
    Observations is what science is about, and theories based on those. Metodological naturalism is found to be successful, while supernatural mechanisms are found to trivially too powerful to describe mechanisms. (See ID’s problems to predict observations.)
    So physical reality is all that concerns science, and especially biology.
    “the existence of evolution implies that there is no God”
    It suggests that no gods are needed to explain evolution.
    I don’t think Mark, who is religious, would be comfortable with either evolution or his faith if your claim was true.
    “He says, I paraphrase, ‘if evolution then no self-respecting God’.”
    Where?
    “conciousness can’t be explained by reductionism”
    In one modern view of reductionism vs emergentism, reductionist systems support emergence. (Effective theories.) There is no a priori hindrance that we know of. As stated, an argument from ignorance. (But see also my specific points above.)

    Reply
  30. Torbjörn Larsson

    “Yes, according to the Ikeda-Jefferys argument it argues significantly *against* design and for a naturalistic universe”
    I forgot to note that even if IJA should fall (which I doubt since this is IMO one clear case where Bayesian inference is useful just because the problem of defining probabilities) it remains that multiverses explains finetuning.
    Multiverses are currently exciting possibilities since they follow naturally from all sorts of eternal inflation cosmologies, which in turn are probable explanations for the inflationary Lambda-CDM universe we live in.

    Reply
  31. Blake Stacey

    @Jonathan vos Post:
    Hi, we might have met at ICCS this summer.
    The good folks over at Cosmic Variance pointed out the original Weakless Universe paper several weeks ago, and I read it with interest. This sort of speculation is always, well, speculative, but it never fails to be fun! On top of that, actually using science to make predictions is a heck of a lot more interesting than fuzzy-headed philozawfigal claptrap, which is what most anthropic principle talk reduces to.
    I have to say that I found the “critique” fairly weak, for a few reasons. First, they essentially argue from ignorance, complaining that nobody has found a biochemistry which works without plentiful oxygen, so without supernovae spreading oxygen throught the cosmos, the Weakless Universe can’t support life. Has all that wonderful old SF about life in ammonia or hydrogen cyanide been completely washed out? I recall Asimov listing a set of possible life chemistries suitable for different temperature ranges, from red heat down to near absolute zero: fluorosilicone in flurosilicone, fluorocarbon in sulfur, nucleic acid/protein in water, nucleic acid/protein in ammonia, lipid in methane, lipid in hydrogen. What elemental abundancies are required by each biochemistry, I can’t say. (This list comes from an F&SF essay reprinted in Asimov on Chemistry, for those who like bibliographies.)
    More fundamentally, they advance arguments that life in the Weakless Universe is improbable when they need to show that it is impossible. If the Weakless Universe can support even one intelligent species, then it’s as good as our own — because that’s all the intelligence for which we have evidence!
    It’s not as if our Universe has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to life-sustaining matter. Not unless your cells are built from dark matter and you feed off dark energy.
    As I have posted here before, I find arguments which attempt to use anthropic “logic” and the Finely Tuned Universe for religious ends to be absolutely insufferable.

    OK, say the cosmological parameters of the Universe were “fine-tuned”. Then, the argument goes, there had to be a Fine Tuner. But the Fine Tuner does not — indeed, cannot — live within the Universe we know. Ergo, intelligence can exist in a realm which is not at all like our Universe. Yet the whole argument was based on the idea that all the peculiarities of our Universe are essential for intelligent life!
    All fall down.

    Reply
  32. Torbjörn Larsson

    “As I have posted here before, I find arguments which attempt to use anthropic “logic” and the Finely Tuned Universe for religious ends to be absolutely insufferable.”
    As it seems most physicists and cosmologists feel about the anthropic principle and the landscape for scientific ends.
    I used to think the anthropic principle was the last resort of the scientific inept. (Or perhaps a pointer to interesting predictive physics.) But the current status of paper production by some topnotch physicists on these ideas makes them usable today in these discussions. Inflation itself is in pretty good shape, confirmed by ns < 1 @ 2 sigma et cetera, while we wait for the Planck probe to clinch it at 3 sigma. Eternal inflation is slightly supported by the low but slightly negative spatial curvature AFAIK.
    Combined with a few successful predictions by the anthropic principle it seems even better. The trouble is, I guess, the question of falsifiability. All of this may be supportable, even falsifiable, consequences of a theory from local observations. But if someone comes up with a predictive theory it will indeed falsify the weaker theories. OTOH, this is the usual case for nonestablished theories. I have adopted the agnostic approach of the interested spectator.
    The Ikeda-Jefferys argument is a philozawfigal one based on constraining plausibility. But it is IMO of the kind where not only philosophy can be useful, as a lustrous veneer of observationally ‘supportable’ speculations between falsifiable science and nonfalsifiable and observationally nonsupportable speculations, but it is partly ‘falsifiable’ – if multiverses goes down as a plausible explanation type, so does this argument. Also if Bousso’s speculative ideas of the breakdown of semiclassical gravitation behind the horizon in the observational universe (the causal diamond of QM) trumps semiclassical interpretations. As I believe has been said before, really philozawfigal ideas *never* die – they go out of fashion.

    Reply
  33. Torbjörn Larsson

    “if someone comes up with a predictive theory” – if someone comes up with a constructive theory

    Reply
  34. Torbjörn Larsson

    “But if someone comes up with a predictive theory it will indeed falsify the weaker theories.”
    Hmm. I believe I didn’t use the usual sense of falsification, meeting the observations single-handedly. (I do need to study Popper et al soon!) Halfbaked ideas, of course.
    Perhaps better to say that a constructive theory will trump a probabilistic one.

    Reply
  35. Jonathan Vos Post

    Dear Blake Stacey,
    I agree with what you are saying to Torbjörn Larsson, and thus my help in that discussion is not needed.
    Yes, we met at the 6th International Conference on Complex Systems. There, I also was Chair of 3 sessions (including the opening Plenary Session], and ran the Science Fiction program, including Marvin Minsky, Dr. Stanley Schmidt (Editor, Analog), Dr. Geoffrey Landis (now NASA Professor of Astronautical Engineering, MIT), Dr. Mary Turzillo, and others. This track under my direction shall expand in the 7th International Conference on Complex Systems, ICCS-2007 (originally hoped to be in Europe, but now planned for greater Boston, with 2008 in Europe).

    Reply
  36. Torbjörn Larsson

    I’m not aware of any discussion between me and Blake. I commented on a comment of his to Alexander, since it touched on the subject of my own comments. If that leads to a discussion remains to be seen.

    Reply
  37. Jonathan Vos Post

    It is also worth mentioning that the “complete” largest collection of Darwin’s writings ever assembled is available, free, on the web at:
    http://darwin-online.org.uk/
    “This site currently contains more than 50,000 searchable text pages and 40,000 images of both publications and handwritten manuscripts. There is also the most comprehensive Darwin bibliography ever published and the largest manuscript catalogue ever assembled. More than 150 ancillary texts are also included, ranging from secondary reference works to contemporary reviews, obituaries, published descriptions of Darwin’s Beagle specimens and important related works for understanding Darwin’s context. Most of the editions provided here appear online for the first time…”

    Reply
  38. Alexander Finch

    Torbjörn Larsson
    Sorry for taking so long getting back to you. I don’t have any good reason for the delay.
    As I read over what I’m about to post I feel it sounds terse. Such is not in my heart. I’ve been trying to stay scientific.
    ‘1. You can’t prove creationism by disproving evolution.’
    If I can disprove evolution (or, as the fine-tuning arguments suggests, show that it is extremely improbable) then one is left to look for something else. I hope that that something else is the Lord.
    ‘2. You don’t define creationism.’
    I don’t see why I need to. Most people reading Mark’s article on this page have a general understanding of it, I’m sure.
    ‘3.1.2 “Consciousness, is unexplainable.”
    Irrelevant for proving creationism. (And argument from incredulity, BTW. Consciousness is studied by neuroscientists, and they find it to be a natural property of the brain nerve network. As little problematic as life being a property of metaboliting, selfreplicating organisms.)’
    You say “they find it to be” as though they know. They believe. No one has discovered a biological mechanism for consciousness. I believe that the most that has been proven is that certain parts of the brain are active while we are conscious, which is not proof that those parts of the brain cause consciousness. Your comparison to the nature of biology is flawed in that we know that life is a chemical reaction, but we have no proof of consciousness being such.
    You continue saying my arguments are irrelevant. I’m arguing two things: There is a God, in response to Marc, and that evolution is not how we got here. My hope is that if I convince anyone that evolution is not a sufficient explanation then that person will look to God. Creationism is the alternative to evolution that I would expect most people to take, but it is not the sole conclusion, or even the most important conclusion, that I would have people reach.
    I’m not quite sure I understand the prosecutor’s fallacy, which the Ikeda-Jefferys argument is an example of. Perhaps I do, and the reason Ikeda-Jefferys is giving me trouble is that it’s based on the idea of a non-omnipotent designer, as the Wikipedia article also states. My belief is based on an omnipotent God, so I’m not particularly bothered by Ikeda-Jefferys, nor do I consider arguing for fine-tuning to argue against creationism. Blake Stacey’s argument also assumes a “designer” that is not omnipotent.
    You say “But here you go anyway, and the answer is as above. Not every individual need to move towards an optimum, the population does.”
    You don’t seem to understand my point. I was not arguing against evolution being plausible (as you seem to indicate when you say “but here you go anyway”). I was stating that Mark had not specifically refuted Hunter’s claim that steps toward the advantage of something like sonar were in and of themselves useless. Hunter suggests that without a fully functioning sonar system, none of the parts of that system are of any benefit. According to Hunter, whether an individual with a mutation or the species as a whole has part of a sonar system there is no benefit, and thus it has not gone “downhill” on the fitness function at all. Indeed, supporting extra biological structures that serve no purpose would probably make the organism less fit, even if marginally so. Mark argued as though every step toward a working sonar system was taking the organism downhill on the fitness function. I am not supporting Hunter’s viewpoint, because we don’t know how various steps along the way may have theoretically benefited species mutating over time. I was simply commenting that Hunter’s argument against gradualism was better than his argument against genetic algorithms.
    The next three of your statements go together, so I’ll answer them together:
    ‘”the existence of evolution implies that there is no God”
    It suggests that no gods are needed to explain evolution.
    I don’t think Mark, who is religious, would be comfortable with either evolution or his faith if your claim was true.
    “He says, I paraphrase, ‘if evolution then no self-respecting God’.”
    Where?’
    First, you correct the philosophical statement “the existence of evolution implies that there is no God” when I did not make that statement. What I said in full was “Specifically Marc’s comment, which I answered in my previous post, suggested that the existence of evolution implies that there is no God.” Marc was the one who basically said “the existence of evolution implies that there is no God” not me.
    Second, I said Marc, not Mark. I’m referring to another post in the discussion of this article, not the author of it (unless, unbeknownst to me, they are one and the same).
    Third, at September 21, 2005, 02:25 PM Marc wrote the following:
    “On a slightly different note, the existence of local minima is a strong argument *against* intelligent design: a self respecting God would not settle for anything less than the best.
    A good example of a local minima is the retina of vertebrae, as comment upon by Torbj√∂rn Larsson”
    This comment is also why my post was not off topic, as you said.
    Several of my arguments you dismiss as arguments from incredulity or ignorance. When I stated that I know of no way of breaking down consciousness into more basic components it offered an opportunity for anyone who believed otherwise to state their case. No one has. My arguments might be seen as an argument from ignorance, but those arguing for evolution do not have the ability to show consciousness as arising from physical processes, yet they argue that we came about through evolution anyway, which doesn’t seem very scientific since it makes evolution a theory with a big hole in it. Basically the argument is “science has explained so much we should assume it explains everything”. I’m using an “argument from ignorance” to say that we’re more than biological. They, without full explanation, say that science fully explains our existence.
    But I can do a little better than an argument from ignorance at face value. Let’s take my artificial creatures again. Their brains are the combination of a matrix of weights between neurons multiplied by a vector of to what extent each neuron is activated to give a new vector which represents the new values of to what extent each neuron is activated. Certain neurons receive input, like how close another creature is (I do them the favor of performing certain low-level calculations for them, thus removing the need to evolve things such as the ability to process visual information to determine what is where), and certain neurons are designated as output. These neurons are basically equivalent to nerves transmitting signals to and from the body. Representing their brains like this, any behavior allowed can result from any stimulus. Now, unless you argue that consciousness is inherent, as you suggested that some neuroscientists believe, then we can probably agree that a single neuron connected to itself is insufficient to support consciousness. I would then continue adding one neuron, and my n-squared matrix of connections would grow exponentially larger, and examining it each time I would continue to find nothing but numbers propagating through the brain. The added complexity at no point suddenly allows the creature to be conscious. If one says “maybe it gradually allows it” then I say there is likewise nothing to indicate consciousness is at all being approached as neurons are added (with any weights one might choose). The only option left, then, is that consciousness is inherent. Then one must ask “what is it inherent in?” Can a single neuron propagating signals to itself be called conscious? Okay, then what about that neuron makes it conscious? Is it the combination of chemical and electrical signals? If that’s the case then if I set off some dynamite electrically then was it for a brief moment conscious? Maybe it has to be a biological process. What about biology differs from other chemical reactions? Is there something special about hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, etc? I’m not a chemist, but it seems to me that if you took every element we have on earth and shifted it down one spot on the periodic table, so that they were all of the same family, then you could still have equivelent chemical reactions (except for the fact that now you’re under greater gravity and some of the very heavy elements would immediately decay and whatnot. Just “fine-tune” the world so that you can ignore little details like that. We’re interested in the chemistry). So would this significantly more massive lifeform be conscious? It seems strange for an evolutionist to say no, and thus it is not something about those specific elements. Indeed, nothing about the neuron itself seems to suddenly allow consciousness, and neither does anything from its make-up. In addition, no combination of neurons allows anything greater than increased complexity to decision making. Therefore I say that there is nothing to our physical existence that allows us to be conscious. Sorry that it had to come out looking kind of rantish. I had to demonstrate how a large number of individual parts fail to yield consciousness in order to make my point.

    Reply

Leave a Reply