# John von Neumann, an IDer ante litteram

Hungarian mathematician John von Neumann (1903 – 1957) was one of the more powerful scientific mind of the 20th century. His works span from functional and numerical analysis to quantum mechanics, from set theory to game theory, as well as many other fields of pure and applied mathematics. He was a pioneer in computer science, the first real computers were developed according to a basic model that takes his name (“von Neumann architecture”).

In the late 1940’s von Neumann studied from a theoretical point of view the problem of self-reproducing automata (see “Theory of Self-Reproducing Automata”, 1966, University of Illinois Press, Urbana). He was the first to provide an algorithmic model of a self-reproducing automaton. Roughly speaking, he proved that to achieve the goal it is necessary to resolve four problems: (1) to store instructions in a memory; (2) to duplicate these instructions; (3) to implement an automatic factory (sort of “universal constructor”), able to read the memory instructions, and, based on them, to construct the components of the system; (4) to manage all these functions my means of a central control unit. A self-reproducing system must contain the program of its own construction. This program is a sort of consistent and complete abstract image of the system. It is not for chance that the inventor of the theory of cellular automata is also one of the fathers of computer science. In fact, in two words, what von Neumann proved is that self-reproduction needs programming and processors (i.e. software and hardware). The following simplified symbolic picture can give an idea of the von Neumann’s solution:

Notice that the above picture is not very different from the “von Neumann architecture” of a computer (which instead of the Universal Constructor has the Arithmetic Logic Unit). We arrive to the conclusion that necessary but not sufficient condition for a self-reproducing automaton is to be a computer.

Notice that the necessity of software holds for all information-based replicators, be they artificial or natural. The remarkable thing is that von Neumann was able to successfully conceive the mathematical model of a self replicator without knowing as biological cells reproduce in detail (for the simple fact that at his times such knowledge was yet unavailable). He understood that necessarily cells had to implement similar techniques years before biologists discovered such mechanisms. His theory was proved true few years later with the discovery of the structure of DNA (James Watson and Francis Crick, 1953) and still later the discovery of most complex molecular machines that work out the cellular information processing. Michael Denton in his “Evolution, a theory in crisis” (cap.11) wrote:

“As von Neumann pointed out, the construction of any sort of self-replicating automaton would necessitate the solution to three fundamental problems [here Denton doesn’t consider the Control Unit] […] The solution to all three problems is found in living things and their elucidation has been one of the triumphs of modern biology. So efficient is the mechanism of information storage and so elegant the mechanism of duplication of this remarkable molecule that it is hard to escape the feeling that the DNA molecule may be the one and only perfect solution to the twin problems of information storage and duplication for self-replicating automata. The solution to the problem of the automatic factory lies in the ribosome.”

As known, in the replication of DNA, the key role is accomplished by the group of enzymes called DNA and RNA polymerase. It remains to identify what in the cell has the role of Control Unit. Since it is the more complex function (in fact it is the finite state machine governing all other devices) it is likely that its detailed explanation involves many correlated molecular machines.

Of course the above list of four functions is simplified and reduced at minimum. However without all these functions any self-reproducing automaton cannot work. In the terms of Intelligent Design theory that means that the set {1,2,3,4} is irreducibly complex (IC) at the functional level. Von Neumann’s self-replicating architecture is science at its best and represents an intelligent design. What was his scientific forecast about biological cells but an ID prediction? Given that such ID prediction was proved true in the lab some time after, on that occasion ID was indeed science and the opposite of a science stopper (the usual accusations against ID are: “ID is not science”, “ID is science stopper” …).

Despite what some believe, self-replication is one of the more difficult technological problems. Von Neumann understood that any information-based replicator must contain inside itself (among other indispensable things) a symbolic representation of itself. It’s worth considering what this implies. The concept of “symbolic representation” implies somehow the realization of a precise mapping between two realities: the physical reality (the physical body of the replicator, the hardware) and an abstract reality (a structure composed of symbols or signs, the software). In mathematical terms this mapping is a function where the domain is a structured set of physical objects and the co-domain a structured set of abstract objects.

The realization of such mapping is not a thing that randomness and physical chemical laws can afford. What is only physical cannot work out the non physical, the abstract. Only a mind can conceive and manage abstract realities, because mind can be considered an abstract processor of concepts and ideas. Obviously a mapping between the physical and the abstract can be designed in many ways. In fact while the physical reality is a given data of the problem the symbolic structure, which must match it, has to be invented. Here only the creativity of intelligence can have success.

But these ascertainments give only a partial idea of the complexity of the self-replication problem. What has to be emphasize is the symbolic aspect of the representation. In fact also a picture can contain an internal self-representation (imagine to put two mirrors in front of each other and each of them will contain a scaled self image). But simple 2D mirrored images are not symbolic and would be of no value for the job of replicating, based on instructions, a 3D molecular system from raw materials. What can help to understand the big difference is to think that the sequence of signs or symbols stored in a replicator are properly instructions, that is directives that must be interpreted by the replicator machinery for constructing a copy of itself from a repository of materials (which get into the replicator through that in the above schema is called “input” device). Instructions imply a code that must be shared between the memory, the processor and the constructor (in the above picture the bidirectional arrows connected them represent also this).

Moreover we have the concept of “autotrophic” replicator. An autotrophic replicator is not a replicator that needs an external provider of basic parts, rather it can self-reproduce finding the necessary materials by itself in the wild. Biological cells are even autotrophic replicators.

With the concept of software and its execution by a processor we enter the main door of computer science. Life necessarily implies information processing in both its aspects, software and hardware. Chance and necessity can create neither the software nor the hardware able to run it. As a consequence, this astonishing meeting of computer science and biology, one of the greatest discoveries of the 20th century, is a thing that Darwin could not even imagine and that, together with other evidences, finally debunks his theory and proves ID true.

## 29 Replies to “John von Neumann, an IDer ante litteram”

1. 1
quaggy says:

Great find! I especially love how y’all find support for ID amongst dead, but famous, scientists. That way, the Darwinian establishment can howl and wail, but they can never put any pressure on these scientists to recant.

2. 2
tremor says:

Excellent post.

3. 3
wagenweg says:

I’m not an expert but it seems even more complex than that. For the evolutionist theiry to work, the physical and abstract not only have to be able to function in conjunction with each other, but the abstract would have to “update”, if you will, the software in order to produce a stronger, fitter physical biologic srtucture which would require knowing what about the previous structure was inferior in order to change them. This goes beyond replication but the production of never before known information arranged (mathmatically) in such a way as to create a new biologic structure.

Great post by the way!! Thoroughly enjoyed it.

4. 4
Nakashima says:

I would submit that Langton Loops or evoloops are examples of simpler self replicating CAs than von Neumann’s design. Where is the central control unit in these autotrophs?
Von Neumann’s design was intelligent, but that does not make his scientific forecast (a reference, please?) an ID prediction. You would have to demonstrate that as a result of his experience, he concluded that only human or greater intelligence can cause a self replicator to arise in a given set of rules and starting conditions.
When you further assert
The realization of such mapping is not a thing that randomness and physical chemical laws can afford.
it is simply that, an assertion. This is the standard OOL assertion associated with ID. It hasn’t become more likely by being appended to an essay about von Neumann. The reality of our world is that the mapping is from physical objects to physical objects, DNA to proteins. In simpler systems, RNA to RNA.

5. 5
GilDodgen says:

“John Von Neumann, one of the great mathematicians of the 20th century, just laughed at Darwinian theory. He hooted at it.”
— David Berlinski

Look folks, this is not difficult. Make up even the most unrealistic, optimistic, fantastic assumptions possible, and the probability that Darwinian mechanisms account for what we now observe in living systems — even at the lowest, cellular level — is statistically zero.

And it gets worse and worse the more we learn. I call this the trajectory of the evidence. If the Darwinian hypothesis of chance and necessity (i.e., random errors filtered by natural selection) were true as an all-encompassing explanation of everything, evidence would continue to mount that this thesis has true explanatory power.

But the exact opposite has happened. The more we learn the more absurd the above-mentioned thesis becomes, and the more hysterical, desperate, vindictive, and abusive its proponents become.

6. 6
ellazimm says:

Mr Dodgen,

The proponents of the Darwinian “hypothesis” claim the evidence is mounting in their favor. The ID “hypothesis” says, among other things, that some biological systems are too complex to have evolved by random mutation and natural selection. But isn’t that trying to prove a negative, i.e. that something couldn’t happen? I can see that something is highly improbable but impossible? How can that ever be established?

7. 7
ellazimm says:

Have you read the article in PLoS Genetics: Molecular Decay of the Tooth Gene Enamelin (ENAM) Mirrors the Loss of Enamel in the Fossil Record of Placental Mammals (http://www.plosgenetics.org/ar.....en.1000634)? It seems to strongly support common descent via the transference of pseudogenes.

8. 8
kairosfocus says:

NW:

Excellent.

I only add that — believe it or not — a certain Mr Paley foresaw teh significance of self-replication as a demonstrable sign of supreme art, using an extension of the much derided illustration of the watch:

________________

>>. . . when we come to inspect the watch [as found in a field], we perceive — what we could not discover in the stone [as also found in the same field] — that its several parts are framed and put together for a [functionally specific] purpose, e.g., that they are so formed and adjusted as to produce motion, and that motion so regulated as to point out the hour of the day; that if the different parts had been differently shaped from what they are, of a different size from what they are, or placed after any other manner or in any other order than that in which they are placed, either no motion at all would have been carried on in the machine, or none which would have answered the use that is now served by it [that is, the functionality is vulnerable to modest perturbation or disorganisation] . . . .

It is not necessary that a machine be perfect in order to show with what design it was made . . . . if by the loss, or disorder, or decay of the parts in question, the movement of the watch were found in fact to be stopped, or disturbed, or retarded, no doubt would remain in our minds as to the utility or intention of these parts . . . .

Nor . . . would any man in his senses think the existence of the watch with its various machinery accounted for, by being told that it was one out of possible combinations of material forms; that whatever he had found in the place where he found the watch, must have contained some internal configuration or other; and that this configuration might be the structure now exhibited, namely, of the works of a watch, as well as a different structure . . . .

Suppose, in the next place, that the person who found the watch should after some time discover that, in addition to all the properties which he had hitherto observed in it, it possessed the unexpected property of producing in the course of its movement another watch like itself — the thing is conceivable; that it contained within it a mechanism, a system of parts — a mold, for instance, or a complex adjustment of lathes, baffles, and other tools — evidently and separately calculated for this purpose . . . .

The first effect would be to increase his admiration of the contrivance, and his conviction of the consummate skill of the contriver. Whether he regarded the object of the contrivance, the distinct apparatus, the intricate, yet in many parts intelligible mechanism by which it was carried on, he would perceive in this new observation nothing but an additional reason for doing what he had already done — for referring the construction of the watch to design and to supreme art . . . . He would reflect, that though the watch before him were, in some sense, the maker of the watch, which, was fabricated in the course of its movements, yet it was in a very different sense from that in which a carpenter, for instance, is the maker of a chair — the author of its contrivance, the cause of the relation of its parts to their use. [Paley here more precisely identifies the role of the designer: one who per the arts s/he has mastered and/or intelligent creativity, selects and configures parts into a functional whole towards a desired use.] With respect to these, the first watch was no cause at all to the second; in no such sense as this was it the author of the constitution and order, either of the arts which the new watch contained, or of the parts by the aid and instrumentality of which it was produced. We might possibly say, but with great latitude of expression, that a stream of water ground corn; but no latitude of expression would allow us to say, no stretch of conjecture could lead us to think that the stream of water built the mill, though it were too ancient for us to know who the builder was. [Natural Theology, chs 1 – 2.] >>

____________________

(That makes me wonder how much of the ever so confident dismissal of Paley etc is based on strawman distortions. Paley was a theologian. Yup. But — just like a certain Thomas Robert Malthus whose thoughts were EXPLICITLY embedded into the foundation of Darwinism (Cf intro to Origin) — that does not mean he cannot think or observe and analyse, even, make a contribution to the progress of science. Besides, I seem to recall that a certain Charles Robert Darwin — having more or less zonked out on medical studies at Edinburgh — also studied and obtained his degree in theology at Christ College, Cambridge; under his father’s plan B to get him into the Anglican clergy.)

And so, let us add the core point of von Neumann, as summed up in the original post:

Roughly speaking, he [JvN] proved that to achieve the goal [of self-replication] it is necessary to resolve four problems: (1) to store instructions in a memory; (2) to duplicate these instructions; (3) to implement an automatic factory (sort of “universal constructor”), able to read the memory instructions, and, based on them, to construct the components of the system; (4) to manage all these functions my means of a central control unit. A self-reproducing system must contain the program of its own construction. This program is a sort of consistent and complete abstract image of the system.

Thus, we see an irreducibly complex information bearing functional set, with underlying codes and algorithms. All of which are known and only known to be the product of intelligence, in a context where the provision of such a cluster by chance defies the complexity and isolation of the islands of function in the config space, relative to the search resources of our observed cosmos. (Which is the underlying ground for Gil’s very valid point. BTW, great piano work mon!)

As to the evoloops he so loves to allude to, N knows that this has long since been specifically and cogently addressed at UD, and shown to be an intelligently designed, algorithm and code based entity that is of course a simple case of a von Neumann replicator (and for instance the coding in of turn to the left at the right time to loop is an illustration of what is going on – the CPU of the PC provides the processing power and storage to do the loop replication . . . ].

But, metabolic life in cells is far more complex and requires DNA as observed storing of order 100’s of k bits. how an irreducibly complex von Neumann replicator with so much information originated out of a lightning bolt or two zapping pond slime in Darwein’s warm little pond [or similar scenarios], is yet to be cogently explained.

And, to go on to the creation of novel, self-reproducing body plans requiring 10’s – 100’s of mega bits of incremental self-replicating, algorithmic information relative to a unicellular life form dwarfs the challenge just given.

GEM of TKI

9. 9
kairosfocus says:

PS: Observe how — on empirical observation and analysis per inference to best explanation (not theological speculation as such) — Paley anticipates so many of the themes and issues we are facing 200 years later: functional specificity of complex information, irreducible complexity (and reducible complexity), the challenge of information and replication etc etc are all there. I would find it interesting if our Darwinist friends could kindly identify how these issues as raised in seminal form by Paley — and as given technical, even mathematical force by von Neumann: he identified a necessary and sufficient (thus, irreducibly complex!) set to implement a self-replicator — were answered cogently ON THE MERITS by Darwin and successors down to today. That is, if they were.

(Failing that, it would be hard to see how evolutionary theory over the past 200 years can escape the charge of being a grand argument by distraction and strawman dismissal of a serious, empirically based scientific issue: the origin of functional complexity.)

10. 10
Shazard says:

We who works in IT and ppl who have written non trivial software knows that self-replicating software program which does nothing but self-replicates is not trivial one. Even more… it shows some level of understanding and mastery of programmer if he can write self-replicating programm. Try yourself in your favorite programming language folowwing two tasks:
1. Write software in that language which prints out the text of itself
2. Write software which does real, self-replication, that is not only writes the text out, but actually executes the copy!

And THEN try to comprehand how stupid and ignorat should one darwinist to be to claim that something like that is possible by random mutations, which is only information input in their system!

11. 11
hdx says:

von Neumann was an evolutionist and he never laughed at Darwinian evolution.

Furthermore, it’s equally evident that what goes on is actually one degree better than self-reproduction, for organisms appear to have gotten more elaborate in the course of time. Today’s organisms are phylogenetically descended from others which were vastly simpler than they are, so much simpler, in fact, that it’s inconceivable how any kind of description of the later, complex organisms could have existed in the earlier one. It’s not easy to imagine in what sense a gene, which is probably a low order affair, can contain a description of the human being which will come from it. But in this case you can say that since the gene has its effect only within another human organism, it probably need not contain a complete description of what is to happen, but only a few cues for a few alternatives. However, this is not so in phylogenetic evolution. That starts from simple entities, surrounded by an unliving amorphous milieu, and produces something more complicated. Evidently, these organisms have the ability to produce something more complicated than themselves.

(Reproduced in Papers of John von Neumann on Computing and Computer Theory, W. Aspray and A. Burks, eds., MIT Press, pp 481-482)

12. 12
Nakashima says:

KF-san,

I’m disappointed that you appeal to the CPU when asked about the central control unit in a loops-like CA. Von Neumann’s control unit was part of the model, not the hardware that supports the model. Not making a distinction between the model and the infrastructure that runs it was the mistake that got Mr Dodgen so much incredulity that he later said he only meant the position humorously.
I think you should rethink your response on this.

13. 13
gaylen says:

I think you might be confusing MODELS of self-organization with ACTUAL self-organizing systems. To run a model of a chaotic system, a computer is necessary, but actual self-organizing systems (e.g., ants, bees, slime molds, the global ecosystem, brain cells, cities, etc.) do not require computers – they simply require interconnected elements following local rules. The fundamental particles of physics are self-organizing, which is why we have chemical and biological processes.

Obviously there is still a deep mystery as to why the “void” of physics is “fertile” (allowing the possibility of fundamental interconnected elements) rather than absolute nothingness, and at the core of this mystery you can find plenty of room for divinity of one sort or another, but knowing what we already know about the potentials for self-organization, we can say with a fair degree of confidence that a prior intelligence is not logically necessary. It might still be argued that some sort of divine presence is required in order to explain the fertile nature of the void, but this divine presence need not be intelligent in the sense of being able to pre-design a complex ordered system.

By the way, you might be interested in this article called The Hard Problem of Sex:

http://www.examiner.com/examin.....lem-of-sex

It deals with the nature of experience (qualia) and suggests: What Mother Nature selected for was not just behavior that propagated a species, but also qualia of various sorts. From the standpoint of current theories in physics and biology, it is hard to see how Mother Nature could select for subjective feelings, but it seems that maybe she did.

14. 14
EndoplasmicMessenger says:

ellazimm @ 7,

It seems to strongly support common descent via the transference of pseudogenes.

Do you believe that ID is incompatible with common descent?

15. 15

Nakashima #4

I would submit that Langton Loops or evoloops are examples of simpler self replicating CAs than von Neumann’s design. Where is the central control unit in these autotrophs?

Langton Loops are self-replicating structures far simpler than Von Neumann model. Von Neumann model is universal, in the sense that in principle doesn’t limit the complexity of the system to self-reproduce. Nevertheless also Langton Loops are finite state machines (composed of 8 states instead of the 29 states of von Neumann). The finite state machine itself (or part of it) can be considered the control unit. After all in general one cannot deny a control unit because an information processing system really without any control would mean a system without instructions and as such it wouldn’t be an information processing system at all.

Von Neumann’s design was intelligent, but that does not make his scientific forecast (a reference, please?) an ID prediction. You would have to demonstrate that as a result of his experience, he concluded that only human or greater intelligence can cause a self replicator to arise in a given set of rules and starting conditions. When you further assert “The realization of such mapping is not a thing that randomness and physical chemical laws can afford.” It is simply that, an assertion. This is the standard OOL assertion associated with ID. It hasn’t become more likely by being appended to an essay about von Neumann. The reality of our world is that the mapping is from physical objects to physical objects, DNA to proteins.

The ID prediction is anyway implicit in Von Neumann’s work. For example if I mathematically demonstrate that any system able to self-adjust must have a specific machinery it is straightforward that also organisms must have that machinery because they are able to self-adjust.
The mapping from DNA to proteins entails abstract code. In fact, for example, the genetic code is an abstract code, in the sense that states rules about physical objects. Analogously a cards deck is a physical object but the rules of a cards game (e.g. poker) are not physical objects. You cannot claim that the rules of poker are physical objects. Poker rules are purely abstract. The same the rules of the genetic code are abstract. In general abstract things cannot arise from physical things, because rules applying upon things cannot arise from the things themselves. Would you say that the poker rules come from the cards deck? Sure not because it would be non sense. Things can generate things below themselves not above themselves (are rules upon them are).

Therefore if biological cells entail abstractness (and they do) this abstractness doesn’t come from the physical things contained in the cells, rather must come from a source of abstractness. Only intelligence is a source of abstractness. Von Neumann’s model entails abstractness and as such can be designed only by intelligence. Given that this model is instantiated in the cells the cells too are necessarily designed. This reasoning, in its simplicity, was sure clear in the von Neumann’s mind also if he didn’t specifically formulate it in the actual ID terms because the ID theory was not yet developed in 1940’s.

16. 16

Hdx #11

The von Neumann’s passage you quote contains nothing that manifests an endorsement of Darwinian unguided evolution. The evolutionary statements contained herein can well apply to non Darwinian intelligently-guided evolution, which is compatible with ID. In other words, if “organisms have the ability to produce something more complicated than themselves”, as von Neumann says, this ability is an advanced potentiality that has necessarily to be front-loaded just from the beginning by intelligence. In a sense, to tell it a la von Neumann, “this [front-loaded evolution] would be one degree better than self-reproduction”, i.e. would be even more advanced and complex. Given that just “simple” self-reproduction implies intelligence (see my previous post) a fortiori a more advanced feature (as front-loaded evolution) does.

17. 17
hdx says:

@16
There is no indication that he believed in front loading…in fact he said in the quote

Today’s organisms are phylogenetically descended from others which were vastly simpler than they are, so much simpler, in fact, that it’s inconceivable how any kind of description of the later, complex organisms could have existed in the earlier one.

18. 18
hdx says:

@16
By the way I never claimed he endorsed Darwinian evolution.
I said he was an evolutionist which is supported by

Today’s organisms are phylogenetically descended from others

And I said he never laughed at Darwinian evolution.

Which there is no evidence that he did.

Non of his writings indicate an intelligent designer exists.

Why do you add a meaning to von Neumann’s quote when it is not not what he said. He does not say anything about front loading

“this [front-loaded evolution] would be one degree better than self-reproduction”,

19. 19
Nakashima says:

You are making the same mistake as KF-san. Von Neumann’s control unit was implemented in the model. Appealing to the CA rules is as wrong as appealing to the CPU.

When you say that the ID prediction is implicit, you are at the same time admiting that it was nowhere explicit in von Neumann’s own words.

If you prove something about self-adaptation, you haven’t proven anything relating to ID. ID, as I understand it, is a negative statement – that even with all the time in the universe, evolution cannot acheive some (unspecified) adaptation.

The genetic code is not an abstraction, it is the set of tRNA molecules in a cell. Change the molecules, change the code.

20. 20
ellazimm says:

EndoplasmicMessenger: I can’t quite get my head around how it can be common descent if an intelligent designer intervened. I mean, then it’s only partially common descent isn’t if? If a living thing’s genome was only partially inherited from its parent(s)? Yeah?

21. 21
Upright BiPed says:

..and the tRNAs are coded for by what?

And what else is on the list of assumptions must we make?

22. 22

Nakashima #19,

When you say that the ID prediction is implicit, you are at the same time admiting that it was nowhere explicit in von Neumann’s own words.

A thing is logically implicit in X when is not expressed, nevertheless it arises logically from X. ID is implicit in von Neumann results because, also if non expressed, ID derives directly from his results.

The genetic code is not an abstraction, it is the set of tRNA molecules in a cell. Change the molecules, change the code.

You surprise me. Mutatis mutandis, you are saying that (1) poker rules are not an abstraction, they are the cards deck! (2) Change the cards deck and poker rules change!! Two non-senses. Poker players change cards decks on a routinely basis and the game rules are always the same. At this point you should even deny your thought (for example your posts to UD). Are your posts to UD only physical, are they only electrons propagating through Internet, without a mind behind them? Your negation of abstraction is absurd. At the very end you are denying yourself for defending Darwinism (which is not worth your sacrifice, believe me)!

The genetic code are (some of) the “poker rules” shared between DNA and the cellular machinery. Molecules and their processes are only carriers or supports of abstract models and rules. Abstract models and rules can be conceived by intelligence only. Molecules and cells implementing those models are designed by intelligence.

23. 23

hdx #17, #18

You know well that “evolution” means “non intelligent, unguided macro-evolution of all species from a unique common ancestor by mean of random mutations and natural selection”. In a single word “evolution” means “Darwinism”. If evolution doesn’t mean that we all can go home, the ID/evo debate is over. An evolutionist properly is who believes in Darwinism. An application (among many others) of ID theory is the disproof of Darwinism. Von Neumann didn’t believe in Darwinism. To say that “today’s organisms are phylogenetically descended from others”, as he did, doesn’t imply to believe in Darwinism. Therefore, given that statement only, you cannot call him an evolutionist.

24. 24
kairosfocus says:

Nakashima-San:

Pardon my being short and maybe a bit sharpish.

Re yr, 12: I’m disappointed that you appeal to the CPU when asked about the central control unit in a loops-like CA.

I believe you know or should know that the work of the CPU in light of underlying computer organisation and the associated computer languages down tot eh relevant machine code are non-trivial matters. Apart from that connexion and context, the code in evo loops or in DNA for that matter, becomes useless.

So, given that we are discussing the claimed spontaneous origin of functionally specific complex information that must run on an irreducibly complex physically organised collection of machines [the origin of which is part of the context as well] the underlying context is a material factor here, not one to be dismissed.

“Lost in the laugh” is therefore not good enough.

GEM of TKI

25. 25
absolutist says:

The role of “control unit” can only be played by the center of thought and volition of the individual – consciousness or the soul.

It seems Von Neumann believed in God and understood consciousness of the individual to be immaterial.

About his belief in God, in 1939 John von Neumann writes to Rudolf Ortvay, a Hungarian Physicist, that universal warfare (impending WWII) is emotionally necessary and ends his letter with: “May God grant that I should be wrong.” (John von Neumann: selected letters By John Von Neumann, Miklós Rédei, p.197)

Von Neuman is also said to have decided to follow Jesus Christ before dying of cancer, and “as might be expected of the inventor of the minimax principle, von Neumann was reported to have said, perhaps in part jovially, that Pascal had a point: If there is a chance that God exists, and that damnation is the lot of the unbeliever, then it is reasonable to believe.” (Gambling on God: Essays on Pascal’s Wager. Jeff Jordan, Lanham, Md. u.a. Rowman & Littlefield 1994, introduction)

More interestingly about consciousness (and others may share in my opinion that it is the ultimate control unit of the body), Von Neumann agreed with some form of dualism, “that is we must always divide the world into two parts, the one being the observed system, the other the observer. In the former we can follow up all the physical processes (in principle at least) arbitrarily precisely. In the latter, this is meaningless. The boundary between the two is arbitrary to a very large extent. In particular we saw […] that the observer in this sense needs not to become identified with the body of the actual observer.” (Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics, John Von Neumann, Princeton University Press, 1955, Chapter VI.)

26. 26
absolutist says:

The ultimate control unit cannot be made of “many correlated molecular machines” as that would invoke circularity (what controls this control unit and so on).

It must be rooted in the consciousness of the individual as physical particles cannot create information. Only a mind, existing prior to the biological parts to inform it, can. Think of the sentence “Le drapeau est rouge” and “The flag is red” both communicating the same information not contained in either sentence per se.

It is therefore a “simple” substance that informs the body about how it should go about its biological development during its lifetime based upon its own internal structure of capacities. Simple because it cannot be composed of parts in order to root personal identity through change. I believe that a Thomistic susbstance dualism view of persons (as opposed to Cartesian dualism or strict physicalism) makes the most sense.

27. 27
Nakashima says:

KF-san,

I don’t know what lost in the laugh means.

It is simply not the case that the CPU is the “central control unit” of a loops CA, or any CA. Take von Neumann’s original model. It has an explicit central control unit as part of the model. What is the CPU, in your view, in von Neumann’s model? Does his model have two central control units?

28. 28
Nakashima says:

Mr Absolutist,

If von Neumann said “The boundary between the two is arbitrary to a very large extent.” about the physical objects observed and the observer, then certainly the observer is physical. Otherwise we could not move the boundary “arbitrarily”.

In your next message, you assert
The ultimate control unit cannot be made of “many correlated molecular machines” as that would invoke circularity (what controls this control unit and so on).

I think your objection is not really circularity, but a question of regress, perhaps infinite regress. However, it can be answered in either way. Either the control unit is itself influenced and controled by other units like itself, in a democratic fashion (There is no king or hierarchy, and yet society functions), or the control comes from some other layer of the model/world which eventually resolves to the constraints of the laws of physics and chemistry.

29. 29
absolutist says:

Mr Nakashima,

Neumann himself clarifies that, as scientists, we are trying to describe something (perception) that can only be known from a first person’s perspective (this precedes the quote I had selected but it was a bit long):

“First, it is inherently entirely correct that the measurement or the related process of the subjective perception is a new entity relative to the physical environment and is not reducible to the latter. Indeed, subjective perception leads us into the intellectual inner life of the individual, which is extra-observational by its very nature (since it must be taken for granted by any conceivable observation or experiment). Nevertheless, it is a fundamental requirement of the scientific viewpoint — the so-called principle of the psycho-physical parallelism — that it must be possible so to describe the extra-physical process of the subjective perception as if it were in reality in the physical world — i.e., to assign to its parts equivalent physical processes in the objective environment, in ordinary space. (Of course, in this correlating procedure there arises the frequent necessity of localizing some of these processes at points which lie within the portion of space occupied by our own bodies. But this does not alter the fact of their belonging the “world about us,” the objective environment referred to above.)”

Neumann uses the example of an observer measuring temperature with a thermometer. In the end he concludes “no matter how far we calculate — to the mercury level, to the scale of the thermometer, to the retina, or into the brain, at some time we must say: and this is perceived by the observer.”

Addressing the latter part of your response: I understand by “in a democratic fashion” you mean communal and self-governing, but control implies authority and command over the whole, someone in charge who governs, provides oversight and guidance in an orderly fashion, while operating within a set of constraints or rules whether they be moral or physical. Physical particles in the cell are incapable of doing such things on their own. Seems the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics would prevent these unguided simples from doing so, over time.