Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category
The number of rabbits in Australia is unaffected by the number of foxes in England. That’s because the predations of the one on the other are all merely counterfactual, and possible-but-not-actual events do not exert selection pressures.
In Chapter 6, Many are called but few are chosen: the problem of ‘selection for’, Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini (F&P-P) launch their ‘conceptual’ assault on the theory of natural selection.
The chapter begins with a review of Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin’s ‘iconic’ 1979 paper: The spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian paradigm: A critique of the adaptationist programme. This is where Gould and Lewontin attack what they saw at the time as a pervasive methodology of evolutionary explanation:
It is based on faith in the power of natural selection as an optimizing agent. It proceeds by breaking an organism into unitary “traits” and proposing an adaptive story for each considered separately. [Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin, 1979]
I was delighted when my son gave me a copy of Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini’s What Darwin Got Wrong for my birthday. Not because I did think Darwin got anything significantly wrong but because I didn’t. I like having my opinions and beliefs tested. I had heard of Jerry Fodor but not Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini (not a name one is likely to forget).
[First in a series on Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini’s What Darwin Got Wrong.]
I read the book through once and then a lot of it a second time. I really struggled to make head or tail of their arguments, and why they thought they had such a killer critique of the theory of natural selection.
I’ve read Chapter 4 of Stuart A Kauffman’s Reinventing the Sacred several times in the hope that I’ll finally get the point. But I still don’t. The chapter is called The Nonreducibility of Biology to Physics. But each time I read it I end up thinking that if he’s right that biology isn’t reducible to physics then physics isn’t reducible to physics either.
One of the frustrating things about Reinventing the Sacred is that it keeps flip-flopping between condensed accounts of areas of science and mathematics I don’t understand well enough and logical leaps which don’t seem justified. So I keep flip-flopping in turn between wondering if it’s my ignorance that’s the problem and wondering if the logical leaps really don’t make sense.
I found myself talking last time about a lot of things I don’t really understand: Alonzo Church’s proof of the ‘halting problem’ displayed by Turing machines, and Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem. All because Stuart Kauffman’s book Reinventing the Sacred leaves me cold and confused.
[Fourth in a series on Stuart A Kauffman’s Reinventing the Sacred which began with Reinventing the sand dune.]
I talked last time about left-handed amino acids and right-handed sugars. This was one of the examples of ‘emergence’ Stuart Kauffman mentions in his book Reinventing the Sacred. I now want to talk about his computing example, because I really don’t get this one.
[Third in a series on Stuart A Kauffman’s Reinventing the Sacred which began with Reinventing the sand dune.]
I spoke last time about what I thought was one of Stuart Kauffman’s points in Reinventing the Sacred. This was that although you could explain for example a sand dune in terms of subatomic particles (by way of grains of sand and then silicon and oxygen ions), you couldn’t do the same thing if you started with a living organism. The living organism is an emergent real entity while the sand dune is not.
I have just finished reading Stuart A Kauffman’s Reinventing the Sacred. I agree with some of it, but with some of it I profoundly disagree. It could be that I disagree most profoundly with the profoundest part of it.
The last few chapters are quite moralising. But it’s not really the sentiments I reject. Kauffman’s heart seems to be in the right place. It’s his logic that worries me, some of which could be quite dangerous logic.
They only need one more miracle. That shouldn’t be difficult. There are over a billion Catholics in the world. Surely a big enough sample to yield a single random inexplicable remission?
The real miracle would be if no ‘miracle’ happened. But that’s by the by.