Category Archives: Science

Wolfe, Chomsky and Everett

The Kingdom of Speech by Tom WolfeI wrote in a previous post. about the kerfuffle surrounding two scholars of linguistics and Tom Wolfe’s fascinating commentary on it in his book The Kingdom of Speech. I just read an article about the affair that had a great quote in it that I wanted to preserve on this blog so I can return to it and point to it now and again. It is an interesting article that is worth a read. The quote:

Chomsky’s theory of language, as will be evident to the reader of Everett’s piece, is on a par with Darwinism. A theory about nothing but itself about how things happen. We could leave it out and nothing would change except the air would be cleaner. Not that Everett says this, of course.

Continued insights on the mind-brain problem

Michael Egnor recently authored a new article in First Things on the mind-brain problem titled A Map of the Soul. I am really just putting this up here as a placeholder and reference for use in future discussions. Egnor writes clearly and concisely about something he has studied up close as a brain surgeon. In addition, it is obvious that he has spent time trying to understand Philosophy and Philosophy of mind. He makes a compelling case for a dualist view. Here is an excerpt of some the observations that have informed his belief in the existence of the mind apart from the brain:

Wilder Penfield, an early-twentieth-century neurosurgeon who pioneered seizure surgery, noted that during brain stimulation on awake patients, he was never able to stimulate the mind itself—the sense of “I”—but only fragmented sensations and perceptions and movements and memories. Our core identity cannot be evoked or altered by physical stimulation of the brain.

Relatedly, Penfield observed that spontaneous electrical discharges in the brain cause involuntary sensations and movements and even emotions, but never abstract reasoning or calculation. There are no “calculus” seizures or “moral” seizures, in which patients involuntarily take second derivatives or ponder mercy.

Similar observations emerge from Roger Sperry’s famous studies of patients who had undergone surgery to disconnect the hemispheres of the brain. This was done to prevent seizures. The post-operative patients experienced peculiar perceptual and behavioral changes, but they retained unity of personal identity—a unified intellect and will. The changes Sperry discovered in his research (for which he won a Nobel Prize) were so subtle as to pass unnoticed in everyday life.

Is there a mathematical theory of evolution?

Introduction to Evolutionary InformaticsAn article about a book titled Introduction to Evolutionary Informatics starts out like this:

Five years ago, Gregory Chaitin, a co-founder of the fascinating and mind-bending field of algorithmic information theory, offered a challenge:

The honor of mathematics requires us to come up with a mathematical theory of evolution and either prove that Darwin was wrong or right!

In Introduction to Evolutionary Informatics, co-authored by William A. Dembski, Winston Ewert, and myself, we answer Chaitin’s challenge in the negative: There exists no model successfully describing undirected Darwinian evolution. Period. By “model,” we mean definitive simulations or foundational mathematics required of a hard science.

The article is very interesting in its own right, but I am also looking forward to reading the book. I am sure the whole book is worth a read, but my interest got piqued in particular by a some statements in the article about the measurement of meaning in information:

8. Information theory cannot measure meaning.

Poppycock.

The manner in which information theory can be used to measure meaning is addressed in Introduction to Evolutionary Informatics. We explain, for example, why a picture of Mount Rushmore containing images of four United States presidents has more meaning to you than a picture of Mount Fuji even though both pictures might require the same number of bits when stored on your hard drive. The degree of meaning can be measured using a metric called algorithmic specified complexity.

Rather than summarize algorithmic specified complexity derived and applied in Introduction to Evolutionary Informatics, we refer instead to a quote from a paper from one of the world’s leading experts in algorithmic information theory, Paul Vitányi. The quote is from a paper he wrote over 15 years ago, titled “Meaningful Information.”22

One can divide…[KCS] information into two parts: the information accounting for the useful regularity [meaningful information] present in the object and the information accounting for the remaining accidental [meaningless] information.23

In Introduction to Evolutionary Informatics, we use information theory to measure meaningful information and show there exists no model successfully describing undirected Darwinian evolution.

Working vacation/move while Christian finishes the semester

Kiwi relaxes while Christian and Dad workKiwi was very nervous on all of the drive from Texas to Tempe except when we were in the hotel room. For some reason, neatly made beds are calming to her. When we got to Christian’s apartment, though, she was in heaven–just happy and excited to be there. Lorena has been doing her usual workout, shop and clean routine while Christian and I have kept our noses to the grindstone, him on homework and exams needed to finish the semester and me on software improvements for the sickle cell disease project which is scheduled for clinical testing in Nigeria and who knows where else over the next several months. The first testing will take place in Nigeria and I have one VERY big set of functionality to add before I go to a big church convention tomorrow. I would rather join Kiwi which maybe is why I don’t make the big bucks.

Christian’s job is to think

Christian at IHOP Tempe, AZ May 1, 2017We saw the April 30, 2017 whiteboard (below) when we first arrived at his apartment on our move to Centralia, WA. Christian hopes he is on the verge of his first (semi) important, first author publication in a major academic journal. The work for that paper is pretty much done. He has to refine the verbiage and get past the whole scholarly review thing which is never a sure thing, but he has something that is pretty solid. The two whiteboard’s below are two consecutive days of work. I thought he spent a lot of time at the computer, but that is not really how he works. He looks at the whiteboard and then he just thinks. His job, his professor tells him, is to think. He has a second paper in mind. He hopes it will be better than the first. The first is solid–something that needed to be worked out. The second, however, is something that might be a true innovation. Something new, not yet considered, that contributes to the field. We hope so, but it is hard to know. Even after a paper like that is published, its importance might not even be know in the lifetime of the author. Truly interesting stuff. AND the whiteboards look really cool.

April 30, 2017 – Christian’s Whiteboard
Whiteboard at Christian's apartment ASU April 2017

May 1, 2017 – Christian’s Whiteboard
Whiteboard at Christian's apartment ASU May 2017

Split brains do not lead to split consciousnesses

A split brains do not lead to split consciousnessesI have written about the mind-brain problem and the hard problem of consciousness on this blog a number of times. There are people who deny these are problems (e.g. Daniel Dennett) and purport that there are purely material explanations even though those explanations do not exist and there is a preponderance of evidence against them. This surely seems to me to be flat-earth quality thinking. A new study out of University of Amsterdam that shows a single consciousness for a split brain reinforces the idea that mind-brain dualism is real. Here is an excerpt from an article about the study that gets right to the point:

A new research study contradicts the established view that so-called split-brain patients have a split consciousness. Instead, the researchers behind the study, led by UvA psychologist Yair Pinto, have found strong evidence showing that despite being characterised by little to no communication between the right and left brain hemispheres, split brain does not cause two independent conscious perceivers in one brain. Their results are published in the latest edition of the journal Brain.

It is an interesting article and I am looking forward to seeing how Pinto’s research proceeds. A separate quote from an article over at Uncommon Descent on the topic is even more clear:

According to Pinto, the results present clear evidence for unity of consciousness in split-brain patients. ‘The established view of split-brain patients implies that physical connections transmitting massive amounts of information are indispensable for unified consciousness, i.e. one conscious agent in one brain. Our findings, however, reveal that although the two hemispheres are completely insulated from each other, the brain as a whole is still able to produce only one conscious agent. This directly contradicts current orthodoxy and highlights the complexity of unified consciousness.’ Paper. (paywall) – Split brain: divided perception but undivided consciousness Yair Pinto David A. Neville Marte Otten Paul M. Corballis Victor A. F. Lamme Edward H. F de Haan Nicoletta Foschi Mara Fabri More.

The problem with materialism

Being as Communion by William DembskiAn article titled Astrophysicist Adam Frank: Materialism’s Fatal Flaw Is…Matter addresses the two greatest problems with thinking that matter is all there is. The first is consciousness. I have discussed it on this blog several times. The second is the increasing compelling idea that “information is poised to replace matter as the primary stuff of reality.” William Dembski discusses this idea in his popular level monograph titled Being as Communion: A Metaphysics of Information. Dembski gives a short explanation of that in First Things here. I wrote about it here. As a corollary, Paul Davies has expressed the idea that the origin of life will be uncovered through information theory rather than chemistry.

I find both of these ideas both credible and incredibly interesting. The first, the hard problem of consciousness, is harder for me to get my head around and is a problem with which the greatest experts in the field struggle. The second idea, though, has lead to a lot of important work in a broad range of fields in the sciences. As a side note, I found it interesting that David Chalmers wrote Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness, the article that started the consciousness firestorm while he was at University of Arizona and one of the main popularizers/proponents of information as the fundamental substance of the universe is a physicist at Arizona State University. Arizona State is where Christian is currently a PhD candidate doing all of his research in the area of Information Theory.

Evolution: Show us the numbers

Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life Is Designed by Douglas AxeDouglas Axe is a highly trained molecular biologist (Cal Tech PhD, post-doc and research positions at Cambridge). He wrote a great article at The Stream about how facts get in the way of the (macro) evolutionary model as it is now taught in the vast majority of our academic institutions around the world. This has been known for decades and Axe calls out the evolutionary story tellers.

Here’s the steel-hard fact they most want to avoid:

The evolutionary explanation of life cannot stand up to NASA-style engineering scrutiny.

If you doubt this, please join me in testing it. Hand pick your Darwin sympathizers from the most esteemed places. It doesn’t matter who they are, because all the pomp and prestige of the academic world is powerless to change hard facts. All claims of Darwin having discovered the only scientifically valid explanation of life get torn to tiny bits when you put them in the grinder.

The response to this challenge is sure to be either silence or protest. There won’t be a nerdy evolutionary biologist who marches up to the chalk board and does the math that saves the theory. The math has been done; the theory undone. Nor will there be a lab test that shows natural selection to be a worker of wonders. We’ve been there. Too many tests to count, and the blind watchmaker never showed up.

It has gotten so bad and the fact that the emperor has no clothes is so obvious, Tom Wolfe, author of The Right Stuff and The Bonfire of the Vanities has written about it in his most recent book, The Kingdom of Speech. I wrote about that earlier (here). Wolfe seems to specialize in calling attention to false and/or base and repugnant ideas and people who are held in high regard by the so-called elites in our society. He does this masterfully one more time with the pompous Noam Chomsky and his take on linguistics as well as the false Darwinian zeitgeist of our day.

Douglas Axe has written a popular level book titled Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life is Design on the subject, too. In addition, he takes on the idea that “regular people” just are not smart enough to understand why (macro) evolution did not happen. Axe’s article in The Stream, his book and Wolfe’s books are all great reads.

Sickle cell disease diagnosis project

HemexHealth sickle cell Anemia diagnosis deviceDown 7.4 of 60

After things started to settle down a little in our lives since the funeral, I had been trying to figure out what to do next. The folks were gone and the kids are on their own and are way too low maintenance for our taste (still going through withdrawal from their going off to college three years ago). Fortunately, I was recently selected to help a group of researchers at Case Western Reserve University and a company named HemexHealth develop a product with an incredible social mission. I really do not know much about how it all works (after all, I type for a living), but the product is designed to rapidly and inexpensively diagnosis sickle cell disease. I DO know how to do my part of the product and am thankful for the opportunity to contribute to such a noble endeavor.

It is going to be a ton of work, but this is exactly the type of project I love. If this is not a good hobby project, I do not know what is. The other thing it will do is take up enough time that maybe Lorena will fill some modicum of guilt about browbeating me into exercising so much. “It’s for a good cause honey and you know I program better with a belly full of biscuits and gravy!”

Succinct list of a few reasons why Earth is special

I follow a blog called Dangerous Idea that often has interesting comment conversations on a range of topics, many of them dealing with God and Christianity. One comment provides a list of some reasons why Earth, the only planet know to us that supports life, is very special indeed. I list the first five below, but you can read the rest here.

1. A star not in the central galactic bulge (most of which are “metal poor”, meaning they are incapable of spawning Earthlike worlds) – ours in nicely tucked away in a spiral arm.
2. A star not in the path of sprays of lethal Gamma radiation from the galaxy’s central black hole (which disqualifies maybe 1/5th of the stars in the Milky Way)
3. A non-variable star (the majority of stars are variable).
4. A planetary system capable of supporting stable orbits (most aren’t).
5. A planetary system with no worlds of Jupiter mass near to the star (Most of the discovered systems have such worlds. Ours is a rarity in that it does not.).
6. …

Gaugecam measures NC Hurricane Matthew Flooding

The following image speaks for itself. It shows the graph of water level from GaugeCam‘s camera viewing water level in a body of water near Goldsboro, NC at 6:30 AM yesterday morning in the face of flooding caused by Hurricane Matthew. There is an image that appears as you hover the mouse cursor (arrow) over the dots on the graph. It is an amazing visualization of the flood from which we are working on a video. The spikes in the middle of the curve are anomalies. On the far right side of the graph you can see the water rise dramatically.
Hurricane Matthew flooding captured by gaugecam in Goldsboro, NC

Social status and Tom Wolfe’s take on Chomsky and Darwin

The Kingdom of Speech by Tom WolfeI wonder whether I would really like Tom Wolfe very much in real life. I have always suspected I might not, but I very well could be wrong. My take on his writing is that he finds subjects that people out of vogue have screamed about for years, then very cleverly writes about those “insightful” things and gets many public accolades and lots of money. Don’t get me wrong, I think he is providing a great service and it is a good gig if you can get it. He started doing this with Radical Chic and has had many successes leading up to his latest take on the self-satisfied Noam Chomsky’s ownership of the “right” way to think about linguistics. David Klinghoffer does a stellar job of explaining it all in his post at ENV titled In The Kingdom of Speech, Tom Wolfe Tells the Story of Evolution’s Epic Tumble. My favorite part of the article explains Wolfe’s game, seemingly every time he plays it–and it is a good game–exposing the pretensions of pretentious people:

Wolfe frames his story in terms of two pairs of rivals or doppelgängers — Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, on one hand, and linguists Noam Chomsky and Daniel Everett on the other. As in every other book of his that I’ve read, Wolfe is sharply attuned to matters of status, rank, class — which explain so much not only in fashion or politics but in the history of ideas. In both of these pairs of scientists, one is the established figure, the man of rank and prestige (Darwin, Chomsky), while he was overtaken and nearly knocked from his pedestal by a field researcher of lesser cachet (Wallace, Everett), a “flycatcher” in Wolfe’s phrase.

Chomsky and Darwin “won” the game of science, not because they were right but because they had social, pop cultural cachet. I think that is exactly right. I think Wolfe has earned his place in society partly because he is such an engaging writer, but even more so because he, too, has the social, pop cultural cachet to not only say the emperor has no clothes, but to get people to actually listen to and consider the idea. That is something a lot of people knew all along. They  are mostly people who live in fly-over country and attended Big State U. as opposed to one of the Ivys.

Nothing comes from Nothing. Something NEVER comes from nothing.

Lots has been made about activist atheist Lawrence Krauss’s attempt to equate a quantum vacuum with nothing. Krauss was not mentioned by name in a post on a blog that is new to me named Popular Science in English and Divulgación de la Ciencia in Spanish. The author seems to be quite an impressive man with a long, very technical career as well as authorship of technical articles, musical pieces, poetry and even children’s literature. I am absolutely adding him to my list of blogs of interest. Here is his quote from the the article on “something” coming from “nothing”:

[Out] of nothing one can create nothing. Nothing does not exist, as we know since the time of Parmenides. As usual, nothing is confused with the vacuum. A vacuum is not nothing, because it has several qualities (space, time, energy, existence) that nothing does not have. Our current theories about quantum vacuum cannot be wholly correct, for they predict that the energy of the vacuum is infinite. Physicists solve this problem by a mathematical procedure called renormalization, a process that essentially involves dividing by infinity (which is forbidden by mathematics), equivalent to hiding the problem under the carpet.

Update: An insightful comment a day later from a blog that discussed the above post–

Even more basic, the quantum vacuum presumes quantum theory which is not nothing. In fact, all physical theories including quantum mechanics presume an existent universe of things. Physics is just accounting. It accounts for the correlation between things now and things later (or previously). It can not account for the things itself.

Michael Egnor: Ad Hominem Magnet

Michel EgnorMichael Egnor has been on my radar for several years now. I love the way he writes and most of what he says (latest example here). He is highly qualified to talk about the brain–he is, literally, a brain surgeon and a professor at a well-respected university (bio here). He frequently writes on the mind-brain problem, doubts the macro-evolutionary fairytale of neo-Darwinsim and disdains the idea that evolutionary theory as it is currently taught in any way informs the practice of medicine. The point of this email is not to write about the style and content of Egnor’s writing (here is a search on one of the places he writes in case you want to sample it yourself), but to note that people who disagree with him rarely engage with what he has to say. Rather, they attack his person. I have never seen anything quite like it. The ratio of ad hominem to substantive responses is greater for Egnor than virtually anyone else I follow regularly. So, next time you see his writing, if you make your way down to the comments or find a blog post or article responding to something he has written,  notice that about the nicest thing said about him is that he is a “creationist” (there is a lot worse), but almost nothing is said about the ideas he expresses carefully and cogently.

Juno

JunoJupiter
I have been having some very interesting email conversations with an old friend from Grants Pass, Oregon. Almost as an aside to those conversations, in an email he sent me on July 3rd, he mentioned he was excited about seeing the insertion of the Juno Space Probe into orbit around Jupiter on July 4th. The picture above is from the NASA website and features Jupiter on the left along with three of her moons. There is an amazing time-lapse video that shows four of the moons in orbit around Jupiter.

I have to admit I have gotten somewhat addicted to the whole thing now that it is on my radar. I can hardly wait until the “in orbit” videos start flowing back to earth. Amazing stuff.

Mocking Neil deGrasse Tyson

We, along with a gazillion other people on the Internet, have enjoyed mocking Neil deGrasse Tyson for his buffoonery. His self aggrandizing ways have turned him into such a caricature that thoughtful people pretty much just tune him out these days. Beside that, many people have realized that, all along, he is mostly just boring. Still, it is kind of fun to watch the mockery when he says something particularly boorish and inane. That happened again a couple days ago and the good people everywhere had fun with it. The links here, here and here speak for themselves. Enjoy.

Peer review

My buddy Andrew sent me a link that was so good, I have been saving it for a Friday to get the maximum impact. I do not think he will mind if I just paste it here cloth. Thank you Andrew, I have followed the twitter account and of course I am an avid fan of RetractionWatch.com–the site that tracks the people who get caught doing bad science.

I’m not sure who runs this Twitter account, so I’m not vouching for them, but they appear to post links to “peer-reviewed papers produced by the social sciences and humanities departments of western universities”… and their selections are simply ludicrous:

https://twitter.com/RealPeerReview

Apparently there was a different Twitter account that preceded this one, but it was shut down.  I think because the person running it was exposed or feared being exposed.  Here are a couple of articles related to one paper on “feminist glaciology” that the previous Twitter account put a spotlight on:
Knowing how you feel regarding certain fields of study in academia, I couldn’t resist sharing with you.
Best,
Andrew
[bctt tweet=”Ludicrous ‘scholarship’ that passed peer review in the social sciences.” ]

Who is the best arbiter of what is true?

Douglas Axe is a very bright guy. He wrote what I believe is a very insightful article about what amounts to be the priesthood of science thinks about mere mortals who do not do science for a living. He comments on a graduation address from a guy who gives advice to Cal Tech grades about how they might rebuild public confidence in that the scientific community. It is very interesting to me the guy does not have an academic doctors degree (he is an M.D.), nor even a masters degree in a scientific discipline. Beside being an M.D. and professor, it appears he is mostly a public policy guy who moonlights as a “contributor” at a pseudo-intellectual magazine in New York. With not a lot of scientific background nor close proximity to anything that is remotely like the general public in America, I am wondering how he thinks he might be qualified to talk on that subject. Maybe there is something not in the public record that gives him some knowledge that is not so apparent from the outside looking in.

Axe is a working scientist who is profoundly more qualified than the graduation speaker to talk about the scientific enterprise. He says some things that make one think he might have a much better grasp not only of science, but the caricature that much of the scientific culture of the day has become. The whole article is worth a read, but here is an excerpt from Axe speaking about his own graduation from Cal Tech back in 1990:

The “we” versus “they” stance that characterizes Gawande’s speech would have resonated with me then, I think. When he said, “People are prone to resist scientific claims when they clash with intuitive beliefs,” I would have understood the coded language. “People” here means mere people — those who haven’t been inducted into the superior scientific “way of being.” So, what are we scientists to do when those unenlightened outsiders don’t follow us? Using smaller words and speaking more slowly only goes so far, because “once an idea has got embedded and become widespread, it becomes very difficult to dig it out of people’s brains — especially when they do not trust scientific authorities.”

Yes, indeed. People tend to be wary of that kind of brain surgery.

Maybe the better way to restore public confidence is to abandon the condescending mindset and embrace a much more radically inclusive view of science. Maybe the moms Gawande referred to–the ones who jumped to the conclusion that vaccines were dangerous — aren’t all that different from professional scientists who jump to the conclusion that public dissent is dangerous. Gawande gave five handy tips for writing people off as pseudoscientists, but instead of alienating people by dismissing them in this way, what if we were to view public opinion as the ultimate form of peer review?