The Antikythera mechanism is a fascinating object (thanks, EA . . . ), one that is often called the “first” [Analogue] Computer. It was recovered from a Roman shipwreck (likely c. 50 – 80 BC) near the island of that name, and the origin of the mechanism has been a challenge ever since a key observation described thusly by Wiki inadvertently speaking against interest:
The Antikythera mechanism was discovered in 45 metres (148 ft) of water in the Antikythera shipwreck off Point Glyphadia on the Greek island of Antikythera. The wreck was found in April 1900 by a group of Greek sponge divers, who retrieved numerous large artefacts, including bronze and marble statues, pottery, unique glassware, jewellery, coins, and the mechanism. All were transferred to the National Museum of Archaeology in Athens for storage and analysis. Merely a lump of corroded bronze and wood at the time, the mechanism went unnoticed for two years while museum staff worked on piecing together more obvious statues.
On 17 May 1902, archaeologist Valerios Stais found that one of the pieces of rock had a gear wheel embedded in it. Stais initially believed it was an astronomical clock, but most scholars considered the device to be prochronistic, too complex to have been constructed during the same period as the other pieces that had been discovered. Investigations into the object were dropped until British science historian and Yale University professor, Derek J. de Solla Price became interested in it in 1951. In 1971, both Price and Greek nuclear physicist Charalampos Karakalos made X-ray and gamma-ray images of the 82 fragments. Price published an extensive 70-page paper on their findings in 1974.
It is not known how the mechanism came to be on the cargo ship, but it has been suggested that it was being taken from Rhodes to Rome, together with other looted treasure, to support a triumphal parade being staged by Julius Caesar. . . .
The Antikythera mechanism is generally referred to as the first known analogue computer. The quality and complexity of the mechanism’s manufacture suggest that it has undiscovered predecessors made during the Hellenistic period. Its construction relied on theories of astronomy and mathematics developed by Greek astronomers, and it is estimated to have been created around the late second century BC.
A recent reconstruction suggests:
The key point is of course discovering that “one of the pieces of rock had a gear wheel embedded in it.” This was so unexpected that it sat uninvestigated for half a century, apparently on the assumption that it was chronologically out of place by perhaps 1,500 years.
But of course, already we see an almost implicit design inference for an object of unknown function, apparently out of place and out of time, without identified designer or means of effecting a design concept. That is, once designers are recognised as POSSIBLE, design is as a matter of indisputable fact, readily recognised on seeing functionally specific, complex organisation and associated information (FSCO/I for short). Here, the toothed arc of a gear showing up as a technological fossil embedded in a bit of rather fragile rock.
That is already a major result.
Before going on, let me pause and embed a now somewhat dated but fascinating video on the Mechanism, courtesy YouTube:
Now, let’s pull up the famous opening passage from Paley’s Natural Theology, Ch 1:
In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there, I might possibly answer, that for any thing I knew to the contrary it had lain there for ever; nor would it, perhaps, be very easy to show the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place, I should hardly think of the answer which I had before given, that for any thing I knew the watch might have always been there. Yet why should not this answer serve for the watch as well as for the stone ; why is it not as admissible in the second case as in the first ? For this reason, and for no other, namely, that when we come to inspect the watch> we perceive—what we could not discover in the stone—that its several parts are framed and put together for a 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, 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 . . . . This mechanism being observed— it requires indeed an examination of the – instrument, and perhaps some previous knowledge of the subject, to perceive and understand it; but being once, as we have said, observed and understood, the inference we think is inevitable, that the watch must have had a maker—that there must have existed, at some time and at some place or other, an artificer or artificers who formed it for the purpose which we find it actually to answer, who comprehended its -construction and designed its use.
I. Nor would it, I apprehend, weaken the conclusion, that we had never seen a watch made—that we had never known an artist capable of making one—that we were altogether incapable of executing such a piece of workmanship ourselves, or of understanding in what manner it was performed ; all this being no more than what is true of soma exquisite remains of ancient art, of some lost arts, and, to the generality of mankind, of the more curious productions of modern manufacture . . .
The Antikythera Mechanism answers exactly to this case, just about a century after Paley put up a thought exercise.
(And yes, hold on a few moments, we will get to the issue of “descent with modification,” and along the way we will look at Ch II, with the often overlooked thought exercise regarding the time-keeping, self-replicating watch. Paley is simply not the strawman he has been so often made out to be.)
Now, why is it that we confidently draw a design inference from FSCO/I as sign here, in absence of all the factors that are so often put up as objections?
First, because we are aware that intelligently directed configuration — aka, design — is possible. So, on seeing signs that reflect a well-known (though not often explicitly named) sign of design, FSCO/I, we readily infer design. This is in effect an induction, where the sort of complex, information-rich functionally specific coherence and organisation we commonly encounter, for cause, we habitually trace to design.
For example, let us consider an Abu 6500 C3 fishing reel, exploded view that shows the next level of design, functional integration of components in a working whole:
. . . though, strictly, there is a lot of integrated functional coherence just in a gear, which we can bring out by reducing it to a wire frame nodes-arcs view. (And — given certain objections — let us note, the simple fact that c = 2 * pi* r implies we have to reckon with approximating irrationals to acceptable precision just to get an evenly- sized- and- shaped, integer number set of gear-teeth around a disc . . . and often it helps to specify mutually prime numbers in a gear train to even out wearing; one credible reason why so many prime numbers appear in the Antikythera mechanism — yup, another layer of subtle sophistication):
BTW, this already explains the dynamics behind many objections to design inferences on FSCO/I. If an objector is committed a priori to the concept that no designer is possible for a given FSCO/I-bearing entity, no amount of mere evidence or logic [especially where an induction is involved, as it always is in science], will move him or her. The root problem is ideologically driven selective hyperskepticism, not that relevant evidence is somehow “weak.” That’s why Lewontin’s notorious cat-out-of-the-bag admission in the January 1997 NYRB is so pivotal to understanding the illogical mindset of all too many objectors to the design inference:
. . . to put a correct view of the universe into people’s heads we must first get an incorrect view out . . . the problem is to get them to reject irrational and supernatural explanations of the world, the demons that exist only in their imaginations, and to accept a social and intellectual apparatus, Science, as the only begetter of truth [[–> NB: this is a knowledge claim about knowledge and its possible sources, i.e. it is a claim in philosophy not science; it is thus self-refuting]. . . . To Sagan, as to all but a few other scientists, it is self-evident [[–> actually, science and its knowledge claims are plainly not immediately and necessarily true on pain of absurdity, to one who understands them; this is another logical error, begging the question , confused for real self-evidence; whereby a claim shows itself not just true but true on pain of patent absurdity if one tries to deny it . . ] that the practices of science provide the surest method of putting us in contact with physical reality, and that, in contrast, the demon-haunted world rests on a set of beliefs and behaviors that fail every reasonable test [[–> i.e. an assertion that tellingly reveals a hostile mindset, not a warranted claim] . . . .It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes [[–> another major begging of the question . . . ] to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute [[–> i.e. here we see the fallacious, indoctrinated, ideological, closed mind . . . ], for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. [From: “Billions and Billions of Demons,” NYRB, January 9, 1997. Bold emphasis and notes added. Cf the link for more details if you imagine this is “quote-mined.”]
Before we leave the subject of gears, let us pause and look at a biological case, in which Wikipedia, discussing gears, is forced to make a brief admission against known interest:
The gear mechanism was previously considered exclusively artificial, but in 2013, scientists from the University of Cambridge announced their discovery that the juvenile form of a common insect Issus (species Issus coleoptratus), found in many European gardens, has a gear-like mechanism in its hind legs. Each leg has joints that form two 180° helix-shaped strips with 12 fully interlocking spur-type gear teeth. The joint rotates like mechanical gears and synchronizes Issus’s legs when it jumps.
Of course, no prizes for guessing why “the gear mechanism was previously considered exclusively artificial.”
A second factor, is that we must be willing to acknowledge the force of the analysis on search-space or configuration space challenge, that if a case of coherent functional organisation implies informational complexity beyond a reasonable threshold [practically, 500 – 1,000 functionally specific bits], a blind chance and/or necessity search on the scope of the observed cosmos is maximally unlikely to find it, where also FSCO/I naturally comes in deeply isolated islands of function in such spaces.
You may wonder, configuration spaces?
In effect, a complex nodes and arcs framework for a gear or mechanism can be broken down into a suitably minimal string of yes/no questions in a description language. This is in effect a sophisticated extension of the Victorian era parlour game, twenty questions. AutoCAD and other design languages illustrate this, reducing designs to structured set of binary digits, one bit of course being one Y/N question. So, we now have a “space” for the string of Y/N digits, from 000 . . . 0 to 111 . . . 1. And of course the string length is a measure of relevant information content.
Walker and Davies summarise the resulting search challenge, speaking in the language of statistical thermodynamics:
In physics, particularly in statistical mechanics, we base many of our calculations on the assumption of metric transitivity, which asserts that a system’s trajectory will eventually [–> given “enough time and search resources”] explore the entirety of its state space – thus everything that is phys-ically possible will eventually happen. It should then be trivially true that one could choose an arbitrary “final state” (e.g., a living organism) and “explain” it by evolving the system backwards in time choosing an appropriate state at some ’start’ time t_0 (fine-tuning the initial state). In the case of a chaotic system the initial state must be specified to arbitrarily high precision. But this account amounts to no more than saying that the world is as it is because it was as it was, and our current narrative therefore scarcely constitutes an explanation in the true scientific sense.
We are left in a bit of a conundrum with respect to the problem of specifying the initial conditions necessary to explain our world. A key point is that if we require specialness in our initial state (such that we observe the current state of the world and not any other state) metric transitivity cannot hold true, as it blurs any dependency on initial conditions – that is, it makes little sense for us to single out any particular state as special by calling it the ’initial’ state. If we instead relax the assumption of metric transitivity (which seems more realistic for many real world physical systems – including life), then our phase space will consist of isolated pocket regions and it is not necessarily possible to get to any other physically possible state (see e.g. Fig. 1 for a cellular automata example).
[–> or, there may not be “enough” time and/or resources for the relevant exploration, i.e. we see the 500 – 1,000 bit complexity threshold at work vs 10^57 – 10^80 atoms with fast rxn rates at about 10^-13 to 10^-15 s leading to inability to explore more than a vanishingly small fraction on the gamut of Sol system or observed cosmos . . . the only actually, credibly observed cosmos]
Thus the initial state must be tuned to be in the region of phase space in which we find ourselves [–> notice, fine tuning], and there are regions of the configuration space our physical universe would be excluded from accessing, even if those states may be equally consistent and permissible under the microscopic laws of physics (starting from a different initial state). Thus according to the standard picture, we require special initial conditions to explain the complexity of the world, but also have a sense that we should not be on a particularly special trajectory to get here (or anywhere else) as it would be a sign of fine–tuning of the initial conditions. [ –> notice, the “loading”] Stated most simply, a potential problem with the way we currently formulate physics is that you can’t necessarily get everywhere from anywhere (see Walker  for discussion). [“The “Hard Problem” of Life,” June 23, 2016, a discussion by Sara Imari Walker and Paul C.W. Davies at Arxiv.]
In short, with solar system or observed cosmos scale atomic resources — what we can empirically warrant [10^57 – 10^80 atoms] — and about 10^17 s, with 10^12 – 14 changes per atom per s, fast organic chem rates, there is a readily estimated upper limit for search, and 500 – 1,000 bits gives us config spaces of order 3.27 * 10^150 – 1.07*10^301, which overwhelm the scope of reasonable search. So, essentially one has to start from the beach of an island of function to climb the hill incrementally.
So, islands of configuration-based function lead to a search challenge:
. . . that becomes compounded by sub-optimal peaks, requiring active information to solve the challenge:
Axe, in his recent Undeniable, p. 160, aptly summarises:
Functional Coherence [–> we safely add, manifesting FSCO/I] makes accidental invention fantastically improbable [–> via search challenge] and therefore physically [–> as opposed to logically] impossible [= utterly implausible]. [Harper One, 2016.]
Nor are we finished with the Antikythera mechanism yet: it was found to be chock-full of text.
And indeed, the identifying and decoding of that text has contributed much to the understanding of its possible provenance, starting with text style, placing it as likely late C2 BC, and in the world of Corinth’s colonies. A longstanding text tracing to Cicero points to ancestral roots in Syracuse, in the work of Archimedes, but the various refinements indicate later inputs, likely involving Hipparchus of Rhodes etc, and that is a possible place of origin. Reference to a particular game in the cycle of Greek games, tends to support this. Where of course coins found at the wreck site by Costeau et al in 1976 point to the 60’s BC. And more.
So now, we are forced to face the implications of intelligible, communicative text s-t-r-i-n-g-s of any significant length. First, these are FSCO/I, with what that mere fact directly points to, intelligently directed configuration. Second, that text also implies a system of communication and an underlying use of language, thus the presence of intelligence capable of using language. So, we should find this page of Crick’s famous March 19, 1953 letter to his son, on his discovery of DNA, quite fascinating:
But there is more, as the text in DNA functions algorithmically in the assembly of DNA, so it is part of an implied organised, FSCO/I-rich communication system, one that uses molecular nanotech that is in turn coded for in the very text. Yockey illustrates:
Pulling back a little, we can see the molecular nanotech framework of protein synthesis:
. . . as well as the wider metabolic network of organised reactions that undergird the life of the utterly mis-named “simple” cell (where the above is in the second call-out box, top left just below):
And all of this effects a kinematic, von Neumann self replicator, which we may outline:
It is obvious that such a vNSR system is chock-full of FSCO/I and itself requires explanation in light of all we have already seen.
Absent the a priori commitment that there could not have been a designer at work, the above practically demands intelligently directed configuration as explanation of the living cell. Including the self-replicating facility. The much dismissed Paley has somewhat to say to us on this, through the self-replicating watch thought exercise his chapter two (which seldom — if ever — appears in the dismissive literature):
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 mould, for instance, or a complex adjustment of lathes, files, and other tools—evidently and separately calculated for this purpose; let us inquire what effect ought such a discovery to have upon his former conclusion.
I. 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. If that construction without this property, or which is the same thing, before this property had been noticed, proved intention and art to have been employed about it, still more strong would the proof appear when he came to the knowledge of this further property, the crown and perfection of all the rest.
II. 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 . . .
In short, a self-replicating facility joined to complex coherent functionality is indeed a further case of FSCO/I that needs explanation beyond Lewontin-style imposition of a priori lockout.
Paley goes on — and kindly notice, this specific discussion is specifically on grounding inference to design on signs, not an inference to God as designer or the like; whatever Paley went on to argue later in his book:
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 cf 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. What the stream of water does in the affair is neither more nor less than this : by the application of an unintelligent impulse to a mechanism previously arranged, arranged independently of it and arranged by intelligence, an effect is produced, namely, the corn is ground. But the effect results from the arrangement. The force of the stream cannot be said to be the cause or the author of the effect, still less of the arrangement. Understanding and plan in the formation of the mill were not the less necessary for any share which the water has in grinding the corn ; yet is this share the same as that which the watch would have contributed to the production of the new watch, upon the supposition assumed in the last section. Therefore,
III. Though it be now no longer probable that the individual watch which our observer had found was made immediately by the hand of an artificer, yet doth not this alteration in anywise affect the inference, that an artificer had been originally employed and concerned in the production. The argument from design remains as it was. Marks of design and contrivance are no more accounted for now than they were before. In the same thing, we may ask for the cause of different properties. We may ask for the cause of the color of a body, of its hardness, of its heat; and these causes may be all different. We are now asking for the cause of that subserviency to a use, that relation to an end, which we have remarked in the watch before us. No answer is given to this question, by telling us that a preceding watch produced it. There cannot be design without a designer; contrivance, without a contriver; order, without choice ; ar-rangement, without any thing capable of arranging ; subserviency and relation to a purpose, without that which could intend a purpose; means suitable to an end, and executing their office in accomplishing that end, without the end ever having been contemplated, or the means accommodated to it. Arrangement, disposition of parts, subserviency of means to an end, relation of instruments to a use, imply the presence of intelligence and mind.
In short, the issue is that FSCO/I points to contrivance, intelligently directed coherent and purposeful configuration as cause, which in turn indeed leads to the natural question of the source of such contrivance. However as the Antikythera mechanism indisputably demonstrates, we may infer much about a design without knowing the designer or having separate direct evidence.
Indeed, the very existence of something that is best explained on design in light of signs such as FSCO/I is empirical evidence justifying the inference that a designer was present. On that prior inference, we may then go on to explore candidate designers, but that is a secondary question.
Which now brings back to central focus, a world full of rocks bearing fossils that reflect vastly more complex cases of FSCO/I than the gear-bearing fossil recovered off the coast of a Greek island in 1900 or thereabouts. Beyond that, we see in life all sorts of cellular mechanisms that are likewise full of FSCO/I and evidence that includes text that functions algorithmically using molecular nanotechnology, including in the process of self-replication.
So, never mind dismissive talking points about “tinkerers,” and “cobbled together” kludges, we need to address the prior question that even “tinkerer” implies: evident signs that point to intelligently directed configuration as cause, whether for the Antikythera mechanism, or a gear or a living cell. So, what will we do about that issue of inductive inference, why? END