Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Evolution Is Intelligence: Paley, Design, Hume, Darwin and Conclusions

I do accept that there is merit to the bits of Paley's argument that survive Darwin's explanation. Because the Argument from Design, if we remove the ad hoc conclusion that 'God did it', still says something. While Darwin explained how nature can design itself through a rather amazing emergent phenomenon, he didn't explain why these things look "intelligently" designed.

The conclusion Hume draws is still, I believe, acceptably true. "Since, therefore, the effects resemble each other, we are led to infer, by all the rules of analogy, that the causes also resemble; and that the Author of Nature is somewhat similar to the mind of man..." -- The equivalency fundamentally holds. Darwin simply showed us that the Author of Nature was a bottom up process of self-design by evolution. He in no way showed that therefore it's nothing like "the mind of man." This is generally and wrongly ignored, and often thought to be a complete rebuttal. That because we know how design occurs in nature, that it can't be intelligence. But, really we don't know how intelligence fundamentally works, so Darwin pinning down the "Author of Nature" side of the equation does nothing to negate the equivalency and we should, I believe rightly, conclude that the mind of man works very similarly to evolution by natural selection.

In fact, if one considered a robust evolutionary algorithm surviving on, accurate predictions about some external environment, rather than energy, one would find that such a system would account easily for the senses, how they work, how they adapt to shortfalls and gaps, how they cooperate, and a great deal of the robust bits of intelligence which current theories completely fail to explain, much less predict. As well as giving a rather interesting paradigm for how the brain would necessarily have to work. Namely as a virtual black box, which could be as isolated as DNA is from the ongoings of nature, but still able to contain a great deal of very important and accurate information about that environment. DNA, afterall, knows a lot about the world, and the only sense it possesses is death. Is it therefore much wonder that a skullful of neurons testing theory after theory against confirming or rejecting senses could create a remarkably accurate view of the world, without those senses in anyway necessarily causing that view or needing to be fundamentally accurate?

I think that Intelligent Design in Paley's time had merit, and was right about a lot of things. But, like Einstein expanding Newton. Darwin actually built on Paley and Intelligent Design, by finding the underlying process for bottom-up self-organizing design, and explaining not only the design but ultimately intelligence. The best metric for intelligence is the Turing Test which explains nothing but comes off as a version of Justice Potter's pornography test: "I don't know what intelligence is, but I know it when I see it."  -- And yet, for thousands of years people have been looking at trees and saying: "That's so clearly made by intelligence!", and thus, in a very general sense, passing the Turing Test with evolution. And I think that with such an proper understanding creationism and intelligent design is hollower than anybody ever dreamed. When they offer that the intelligence behind nature is God, they are really deifying evolution, an apotheosis of a simple bottom up mechanism for producing additional order by ruling out what doesn't work, very much akin to the accusation of "worshiping evolution" that atheists are occasionally pilloried with; frankly I don't blame them.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

What would prove to you that there is a God?

>>I think the strength of evidence required to falsify a claim depends on the amount of evidence extant.

Actually and somewhat interestingly, I think it's a bit more nuanced than that. The old axiom that "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" is true but what is meant by "extraordinary" isn't simply "a lot" but a quality difference as well. There is some arcane debate out there as to what would convince an ardent atheist there is a God. And some folks claim "well if God came down and talked to me", but others have rightfully noted that somethings like left-temporal lobe epilepsy can cause that exact heterophenomenon and it might well be a better conclusion that you are simply having an exceptionally vivid hallucination (as many are),  rather than God is really talking to you. So then where does that leave the proposition?

The problem here is that a lot of evidence is different than extraordinary. You really need an explanation that explains everything. And to the above question I think a satisfactory answer is that if I woke up from a matrix like game designed and executed by God, upon waking I quickly regain my real memories and understand the physics of the real universe are nothing like the massive multiplayer networked video game that is all of this universe and that real physics were completely different than the physics of Earth. Such evidence would be substantially more extraordinary than something claiming to be God coming around and showing off what could be super-advanced alien technology on Earth. Extraordinary doesn't mean a lot of additional evidence to the contrary but something that could actually overthrow everything we think we know about the universe.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

On De-Evolution and the Fall of Man

 Though it is not very common, there is an argument that stupid design is explained by the fall of man in Genesis. I tend to go to the trouble of showing how silly such ideas are by refuting them. It seems like a lot of work to refute a rather laughable claim, but why not? It's just a few thousand words and maybe you'll free a mind. As I bothered to write up a pretty good explanation elsewhere I'll repost it here, because it's awesome and I tend to look back here to find awesome things. Even if nobody read this blog, except for you (warning nobody might read this, but if that's true then its a safe statement because nobody read it), it still works as a great resource to save things.

While one could attempt to make that argument. The problem is that Pareto efficiency of the designs observed combined with an understanding of the evolutionary ancestry requirements producing better and specific assumptions, don't fit at all.

Allow me an example. There is a nerve in humans and in all mammals called the recurrent laryngeal nerve which travels from the brain to the larynx, via the heart. It travels down from the head, loops around the aortal arch and back up to the larynx. In the giraffe this is like twenty feet of unneeded nerve to travel a few inches. This is a largely inefficient design, but under your theory it would have had to have developed since the Fall of Man. That somehow the deterioration of the perfect design made all the recurrent laryngeal nerves of all mammals and all the four legged land critters (and a good number of the ocean critters, just not arthropods) suddenly lengthened and looped around the heart.for no reason.

Moving from one design to another would likely cause the larynx to fail. Basically what we have is a Pareto efficiency, it's not the best design, but it is one that any alteration would cause serious errors and thus cannot be changed (save gradually), and no set of gradual changes could get you to the more efficient design. But, the reverse is also true. You can't go from the efficient design to the inefficient one without also likely breaking the system completely.

However the evolutionary explanation is really straight forward. We are In fish the path the nerve takes is a straight line. It goes right through the heart there because that's the best and most efficient design. The problem is that through our evolution the heart has moved down in the torso the head has become more isolated and the larynx is not located much closer to the brain than to the heart. So once it developed in our evolutionary ancestor (and the ancestor of a all the rejiggered fish, read all four legged land animals and any of the water dwelling descendents thereof)  it couldn't be changed. In fact, it can't be changed. You can't get from the efficient design to the inefficient one or the efficient design to the inefficient one. Evolutionary the design was quite efficient  in our distant ancestors but doesn't work well for us, and as such, it is not only explained by evolutionary theory but such things are predicted by evolution and are only explained by evolution. You could say that that our eyes are so fantastic that they need an intelligence to explain how wonderful and intricate they are, however, you can't use that explanation to explain why all the blood vessels and nerves in the mammalian eyes (including ours) go forward towards light and not back towards the brain which is their final destination. Which requires that they be narrowed and made rather clear and that a large hole causing a blind spot exists in our vision.

You also cannot use some sort of de-evolution from the Genesis Fall of Man as an explanation. The designs are good, they are just wrong. They are well designed to cope with things like flawed design at the most basic level, but also it's impossible to go from the most basic design principles to the inferior ones without breaking the entire system. And even if you could,  you'd need an explanation for how good the system is at coping with the most basic errors.

The explanation you are offering fails to account for such designs.
The explanation you are offering could not allow a transition from a perfect design to the inferior but well coped designs.
The alternative explanation explains such specific mistakes.
The alternative explanation predicts these specific mistakes.
The alternative explanation gives the specific reasons why those mistakes should be very common.
The alternative explanation makes a wide swath of specific explanations which perfectly mesh with what we know. We know for example that evolutionarily fish are the first vertebrates and some of the systems would work fantastically for them.

So the explanation accepted by the science is one that explains all the data at hand, predicting a great deal of it, fits with known facts, and requires no unknown assumptions. Your explanation cannot account for the data at hand, does nothing to predict how things should turn out or if they are consistent with the assumptions, requires a great deal of unknown assumptions and is primarily based on iron age interpretation of Semitic mythology from late bronze age principly accepted by some of the nomadic goatherders of the time, and varied throughout the region.

I think when things are this clear you should seriously consider if you could be wrong. Taking into account things like the modern understanding that certainty is an emotion rather than reliable metric by which to judge the quality of the evidence, and that being wrong feels exactly like being right while it's happening.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Home again...

Traveled up north. I have returned. Not that anybody could notice or care much.

*watches tumbleweed roll passed*.

Friday, July 15, 2011

On eternal rewards and punishment and meaning.

The more you think about it, if there were an afterlife that is eternal there's no finite crime that could warrant any infinite punishment. Who cares if you get to have your finite life before your infinite life last 15 or 90 years, or how brutal and horrific the transition. Clubbing a person to death, no more or less warrants any party to any infinite reward or punishment, than any other action.

If you really weigh such things you realize that the very prospect offered means that this life is largely pointless and minutia compared to the infinite. Such claims are often is offered by the religious to say that it's super important what we do here because it governs our path in the next infinite life. But, really that makes no sense. It's dictating an illogical system which demands that this life is infinitely important while finitely experienced. There is no good reason to do this. The only reason to suggest a system like this is because the proposition that there is some infinite reward or punishment somewhere is false. If there actually were an infinite punishment or reward the impact of some brief 80-90 years would be 0. As such, any reasonable system would accept this and never dictate the infinite by way of the finite. Whereas if the proposition is false, and this is the only life. Then attempting to give it more value by giving it infinite weight would be a reasonable if poorly executed thing to attempt. Moreso if you tied the rewards and punishments to generally moral comeuppance within this life.

Upon the prospect of eternity, life would be meaningless and as such the sins committed within it would be equally meaningless. If we grant the prospect of heaven and/or hell we must conclude that all people go to the same place regardless of any petty finite crimes or sins. For if everybody went to heaven except for Adolph Hitler who burns in hell, then after a few thousand, million, or billion years all of those people who had a brief nothing of a pre-eternal-life shortened by his actions must agree of the unjust nature of an eternal punishment. Such a system, where Hitler was sentenced to hell, would be hugely unjust and would require the intervention of any slightly compassionate humans.

The only crime in such a universe, would be a crime that causes an infinite punishment. The failure to save a soul, the killing of an unsaved person who might have eventually be saved, or anything that would alter the fate of any soul to hell rather than heaven. But, then this too would collapse. Because this would never happen if this never happened. The Nash Equilibrium of such a system is that everybody should go to heaven, anyway. Because only such a crime as to damn a soul would perhaps warrant such a punishment, and the only way to do that is with an infinite chain of damnation that could never have begun. And in such a case, the only real criminal would be God. -- Where theologically one attempts to place an infinite finger on the scale of importance of life, they only succeed in making the entire system a farce. And the infinite the only thing worthy of measure. If there were such infinite rewards and punishments the only coherent system is a uniform system. But, if there were no such set of rewards and punishments, then making the claim that such a system exists would be logical, reasonable, and likely. For what better to attempt to keep people in line than a stick and carrot. And what better stick or carrot than an infinite stick and infinite carrot. But, if we have infinite carrots laying around, whatever we're trying to achieve is meaningless because some fraction of that infinite would outweigh any finite goals we might have. Heaven and hell make the most sense when they are false propositions. For as a real system, they render the earth largely a pointless pitstop that serves no function and engenders no rewards and punishments regardless of anybody's actions. As a fake system, they make sense to try to solidify religious power and bring people in line with whatever religious or moral behavior you want.

The problem here is that such a system is rife for abuse, it's rife for failure and for primitive notions of morality. Morality gets better all the time, secular ethics which focus on what the best way to live should be and how we can get the best results given an acceptable range of behavior has long outstripped the moral notions within various holy books. The Bible describes what kinds of slaves you should have and how they should be treated, how best to buy women from their fathers, how to sell your children, how to commit genocide, take sex slaves, and when it's acceptable to rape them. The Koran is a small nudge from justifying flying planes into buildings. The Bible easily justifies walking around with signs informing people of God's Hate for various things. The idea of heaven and hell doesn't work as truth, and as a lie to compel adherence it gives a loaded gun to pointless nonsense. While I admit that in a system where there is no form of government outside of the hollow threats of religious comeuppance, it might be preferable to a completely failed state. It's not however the best system or even a coherent system in the end. The likelihood that the system described by beliefs of heaven and hell actually exists, is low because the system places considerable emphasis on our Earthly life, while paradoxically rendering it meaningless. Whereas the likelihood that the system should be presented as true when it's really false, is exactly what we should expect from goat-herding nomads grasping at straws to try and macgyver a system that function as a government without any real government authority. When all you have is hollow threats, go big, or go home.

If heaven and hell are real, the universe is a bizarre paradoxical place that doesn't make sense and is perversely unfair.
If heaven and hell are fake, the universe is exactly what it appears to be. People try to control other people and use threats to do it. And when cooperation is generally useful, such threats can be used cohesively and effectively.

As is often the case, religion makes sense, but only if the things it says aren't true. Because generally there are not only answers to the questions posed, but there are good underlying reasons for the claims. And those claims ultimately make no sense unless those claims are also false.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

What Being Wrong Feels Like?

While we tend to think that being wrong feels embarrassing, shameful and dreadful, that's just what we associating learning that we're wrong feels like. Actually being wrong feels exactly like being right.Certainty is an emotion, not a degree of reliability we assign to our beliefs. It has nothing to do with the truth.

Just as, oddly enough, lying has nothing to do with the truth. When we lie, we give a false account of our heterophenomenological beliefs. We say what we believe to be true or we do not. The actual truth does not need to be accounted for. For if we say what we believe to be true is not true, we are lying. Whether or not by happenstance or dumb luck it turns out to actually be true. If we say  something we believe to be false is true, it doesn't matter if technicalities or flukes or incorrectness renders our lies factually accurate or not, they are still lies. And if we say what we believe to be false is false and what we believe to be true is true, it doesn't matter if we happen to be mistaken, they are not lies. Lies are when we misrepresent our beliefs. And our beliefs do not need to align with the truth. -- Our beliefs have no solid ties to the truth, nor do they need them. Truths feel exactly the same as falsehoods when they are bouncing around our heads, namely they feel like beliefs; because they are.

Herein is the pride and fall of our minds. Because to avoid the shame of being wrong there are two courses we can take. We can either minimize the pain of wrongness by stubbornness and spite, because what is there that stubbornness and spite can't do even if we must sacrifice all of reality to maintain the illusion. Or we can accept that being wrong isn't shameful, that it's an opportunity for growth and a lesson for future humility. I tend to joke that my humility is part of my awesomeness, but the truth is that I believe it in all honesty. I think humility with which to temper pride is the highest of virtues. I don't mean the bland sort of failing to take credit for your awesome; that's stupid. Own your awesome. Know how badass you are, but do not extend that to your beliefs. You're beliefs are not you. The flip side of insulting a person's beliefs while respecting that person as a person, is a sort of humility where you understand and revel in your positive aspects but avoid believing in beliefs. The idea that because you rock, your beliefs are rock solid is simple folly. It seems rather zen, but understanding the fallibility of the human brain and the cognitive biases to which we are all prey, allows you to forgive yourself for being wrong. It's okay. It really is okay to be wrong. It's not even forgiveness, but understanding that there's nothing to forgive. Because being wrong is easy to do, and it is hard tell wrongness from rightness.

This, however, isn't to say that we should just call the whole thing off. No. All roads lead to epistemological foundations and this is a clarion call for the developing those skills. How do we know what we know, and should we care if our beliefs are true? Rather than pridefully denying our wrongness, we should accept that our wrongness is an absolutely reasonable option and often is the best option. We should be ready to test our beliefs, and determine whether or not they are true and accept that they are what they are, and not care, because to accept a belief nether more nor less than the degree required by a careful understanding of the evidence in favor of that proposition should be passionately wished for. It's more important than I-told-you-sos and regrets about recently abandoned false beliefs, to care enough about your beliefs to be ready to abandon them for the mere objection that they do not conform to reality. Thinking critically requires a deep desire to want to believe true things and not believe false things, to revel in those moments others find embarrassing, shameful, or dreadful, and understand them for what they really are: growing pains.

Monday, July 4, 2011

When coding bugs...

When one codes bugs try to make sure they are either non-existent or catastrophic.

The sneaky ones are a pain in the ass.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Show Binge Withdrawls.

It's an odd effect that will I first experienced watching a several seasons of Alias in short order, but the effect of having a show watching it up to date and suddenly having nothing is an odd sort of emotion. It's like the end of a show, a good finale that you can't really believe it's all over and want more but know that there's nothing else to do. I just finished watching the first and second seasons (up til now) of Treme, an HBO drama about post-Katrina NOLA. Fill up your free time with pure binge and now you'll get a weekly trickle. It's not even like it's over, or canceled it's just I can't mainline it with a needle straight into my eye.

It's like a dear friend to stop me from partying and getting doped up sent me into working on an oyster boat between occasional chauffeuring into town to play some music. I know it's coming. I've done such things before. But, it always ends, not with a bang but a whimper.