Education Science

Scientists often don’t know what they’re talking about

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When reading the following, remember that string theory is taught and discussed in physics courses. Also ask yourself whether Gross’s criticisms apply to evolutionary theory — is it “missing something absolutely fundamental”?

Nobel laureate admits string theory is in trouble
10 December 2005
http://www.newscientist.com/channel/fundamentals/mg18825293.700.html

“WE DON’T know what we are talking about.” That was Nobel laureate David Gross at the 23rd Solvay Conference in Physics in Brussels, Belgium, during his concluding remarks on Saturday. He was referring to string theory – the attempt to unify the otherwise incompatible theories of relativity and quantum mechanics to provide a theory of everything.

“The state of physics today is like it was when we were mystified by radioactivity”
Gross – who received a Nobel for his work on the strong nuclear force, bringing physics closer to a theory of everything – has been a strong advocate of string theory, which also aims to explain dark energy. “Many of us believed that string theory was a very dramatic break with our previous notions of quantum theory,” he said. “But now we learn that string theory, well, is not that much of a break.”

He compared the state of physics today to that during the first Solvay conference in 1911. Then, physicists were mystified by the discovery of radioactivity. The puzzling phenomenon threatened even the laws of conservation of mass and energy, and physicists had to wait for the theory of quantum mechanics to explain it. “They were missing something absolutely fundamental,” he said. “We are missing perhaps something as profound as they were back then.”

From issue 2529 of New Scientist magazine, 10 December 2005, page 6

65 Replies to “Scientists often don’t know what they’re talking about

  1. 1
    DaveScot says:

    A quantum theory of evolution?

  2. 2
    keiths says:

    The problem is that they’re trying to intelligently design the theory. Perhaps they should try an evolutionary algorithm instead…

  3. 3
    Usurper says:

    HA HA!

  4. 4
    GilDodgen says:

    Perhaps the universe was not only designed, but designed to be endlessly discoverable. In my opinion, Gonzalez and Richards have made a compelling case for design-discoverability when it comes to cosmology. I couldn’t put their book down.

    At the close of the 20th century we have discovered something very interesting: The physical and biological universes are comprised of three important entities, not two: matter, energy, and information.

    Information is clearly non-physical and non-reducible to the laws of physics, chemistry, probability or any combination of these.

    The dispassionate conclusion would seem to be that mind precedes matter, not the other way around. I have reached that conclusion, and make no apologies for it.

  5. 5
    Red Reader says:

    GilDodgen: Good comment.

    The modern rift between “faith” and “science” CAN close (as it once was closed before Darwin).

  6. 6
    DaveScot says:

    Actually information is physical and does follow laws of physics.

  7. 7
    taciturnus says:

    So the laws of physics, since they are information, are themselves physical? I once dropped a pencil on the floor in a physics exam, but I’ve never dropped “F=MA”. I wonder what kind of sound it makes.

  8. 8

    Here is something even funnier. Admittedly flawed, but still qualifies as “legitimate” science—unlike intelligent design, of course. (LOL)

    Article Preview
    Mind your scientific language
    03 December 2005

    Lawrence Krauss
    Magazine issue 2528

    Misusing the word “theory” plays into the hands of creationists – that’s why string theory ought to be renamed, says Lawrence Krauss
    IN DESCRIBING humankind’s fascination with extra dimensions for The New York Times recently, I made the mistake of mentioning string theory and intelligent design on the same page. My purpose was not to claim they are similar. Quite the opposite. I wanted to describe how both science and religion sometimes provoke heated debates about features of the universe we cannot measure. While string theory has yet to make contact with the empirical universe, it is a legitimate part of science, even if it proves a failure, because its practitioners are ultimately aiming to produce falsifiable results. The proponents of intelligent design, on the other hand, do not seem to have this intent.

    My choice of examples provoked a furious discussion on several physics blogs. The juxtaposition particularly irritated a number of string theorists who seem sensitive to any scepticism regarding the whole string enterprise. This was not my intent, although …

    The complete article is 885 words long.

    Original : http://www.newscientist.com/ch.....825285.400

  9. 9
    DaveScot says:

    to taciturnus and others that believe information is non-material

    find a way to store or transmit information devoid of matter and energy

    if successful you’ll get a nobel prize in physics

  10. 10
    DaveScot says:

    ID theory is falsifiable. String theory is not falsifiable.

    Both should be call hypotheses, not theories, of course. “Theory” is used very loosely by nearly everyone, scientist or otherwise. The notion that RM+NS can eventually turn bacteria into baboons is hypothetical.

    The number of scientists that say ID theory is false makes one wonder how that’s possible if it isn’t falsifiable. In fact for RM+NS to be a valid hypothesis it must also be falsifiable. It can only be falsfied by ID being verifiable. Conversely ID is falsifiable by RM+NS being verifiable. It’s quite possible neither are valid hypotheses but the bottom line is that if one is valid then so must the other when judged by the same criteria.

  11. 11
    PaV says:

    Dave Scott: “to taciturnus and others that believe information is non-material

    find a way to store or transmit information devoid of matter and energy”

    A few questions: let us suppose that a particular spot on a road winding through a forest, there is a sign that says, “Danger: Animal Crossing. Slow Down”; if a bear comes across the sign, does he see it? And if he does, is it the bear or the motorist who will slow down? And, if it is the motorist, then why does the motorist slow down, while the bear does not? Remember, both the motorist and the bear “saw” the sign with a mammalian eye, processed through a mammalian nueral system, into a mammalian brain.

  12. 12
    Josh Bozeman says:

    Because something is stored in a physical system doesn’t mean that something itself is physical. We take in information all the time that isn’t in any way physical itself. The messenger might be physical but the message itself need not be.

  13. 13
    taciturnus says:

    “find a way to store or transmit information devoid of matter and energy

    if successful you’ll get a nobel prize in physics”

    Actually, you wouldn’t, since physics deals specifically with matter and energy, and therefore any discussion of information as non-material is outside the subject matter of physics.

    Of course information can be *represented* physically, which is what we do when we store or transmit it. But information itself can’t be physical, or we wouldn’t be able to represent it in a variety of ways or even communicate it. If “2+2=4” is itself a physical body and not merely represented by them, then either you or I can have it, but not both, since bodies can’t be in two places at once.

  14. 14
    Bombadill says:

    exactly. if 2+2=4 is reducible to matter, it would logically follow that it along with other matter, has mass.

    That’s absurd.

  15. 15
    Josh Bozeman says:

    This is an interesting example of why information is immaterial.

    http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/2646

    One set of data (information) can be put into many different forms, none of which means the information itself is material. If it was material, you couldn’t change the format the info. comes on without physically manipulating the information itself. When you speak to someone, you pass on information but you’re not actually passing anything physically to them. Their mind is picking it up and they catalog it into a file of sorts- but the words themselves aren’t being put into the brain, nor are the sounds of the words, or written words, etc.- merely the thoughts themselves. These words I type right now are pieces of information, but the only physical aspect to it is the delivery system. You see the words I type, and the letters themselves on the screen are material, but the letters are not information- the information is the message you took and implanted in your brain. You could sit down and try to memorize this entire paragraph, but you’re not putting any material object into your brain or your mind.

  16. 16
    Lurker says:

    A CD full of information weighs the same as one with no information. Information is immaterial.

  17. 17
    JohnLiljegren says:

    Getting back to a really basic issue concerning information for a non-scientist: When the term “information” is used in biology and evolution, does information mean something other than, or in addition to, DNA?

    I have assumed that “information,” in the context of biology, is virtually the same as a book/manual of directions or instructions. And such directions or instructions are provided in cells via the “book” of DNA nucleotides. Is this not correct?

  18. 18

    This is interesting. A new book on a theory they admittedly know nothing about.

    The Cosmic Landscape : String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design
    Leonard Susskind

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/produ.....9?n=283155

  19. 19
    DaveScot says:

    PaV

    “a few questions: let us suppose that a particular spot on a road winding through a forest, there is a sign that says, “Danger: Animal Crossing. Slow Down”; if a bear comes across the sign, does he see it?”

    Probably.

    “And if he does, is it the bear or the motorist who will slow down?”

    If the motorist doesn’t understand English he won’t slow down and if he’s in a hurry he won’t slow down either. It’s all a matter of training. If the bear is properly trained and motivated, he will slow down. If the motorist is properly trained and motivated he will slow down. Absent training and motivation neither will.

    Now here’s some questions for you – does the hypothetical immaterial soul require training to process information? Does the bear have a soul too?

  20. 20
    DaveScot says:

    “We take in information all the time that isn’t in any way physical itself.”

    No, we do not. All information is physical. If you disagree please demonstrate a means of either storing or transmitting information absent matter and energy.
    Otherwise concede the point.

  21. 21
    DaveScot says:

    Taciturnus and Bombadill

    Sorry, but you still haven’t met the challenge. You posited 2+2=4 is immaterial yet in order to store and convey the information you needed matter and energy. Information is physical. Absent matter and energy information cannot exist.

  22. 22
    DaveScot says:

    Lurker

    There is information on a blank CD. The arrangement of atoms, their position in time and space, IS information. Rearranging them changes the information but doesn’t add or subtract from the quantity of it. Information, like energy, can be neither created nor destroyed, it can only change form.

  23. 23
    DaveScot says:

    I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, as great minds think alike, but on a lark I did a google search for “Conservation of Information” and guess whose name pops up proposing “The Law of Conservation of Information”?

    http://www.google.com/search?h.....rmation%22

  24. 24
    DaveScot says:

    This article is in tune with how I logically derive a law of conservation of information. To be perfectly honest I thought it was obvious and widely known that if the universe is deterministic then information can be neither created nor destroyed. As some of you already know I believe the universe IS deterministic with an exception – intelligent agency (a.k.a. “free will”) is non-deterministic. I think this lines up fairly well with Dembski’s notions on how CSI is created (only via intelligent agency)but in different words.

    Anyhow, here’s the article, it deals with hypothetical destruction of information via black holes (Hawkings). If it weren’t widely accepted that information cannot be created nor destroyed this long running debate over whether a black hole can violate the principle wouldn’t be a debate. That’s why I don’t understand what’s new about the concept.

    http://www.theory.caltech.edu/.....e_bet.html

  25. 25
    DaveScot says:

    From above link:

    At first, the notion that information, like energy, cannot be destroyed seems like a dubious pronouncement. Tear out a page from a book and drop it into a fire and the information seems to vanish. After all, the second law of thermodynamics says that an orderly system (like a page arrayed with words and numbers) will inevitably become more and more disordered, increasing in entropy, until it eventually becomes a meaningless mess. In principle, however, information doesn’t truly disappear. The markings of ink on the page are preserved in the way the flame flickers and the smoke curls, in the ripples of heat radiating through the air and the pattern of the ashes delicately falling to the ground. The practical difficulties of retrieving this subtle data and restoring the original order give the second law its vaunted power. But in theory one could reconstruct every paragraph. The information is supposed to be out there in the universe somewhere.

    This gets to MY notion of how the essence of a person might continue after physical death. Every thought you have leaves a mark on the universe in the form of altered states of matter and energy. This is information that can be neither created nor destroyed. In principle it can be recovered (with the possible exception of it falling into a black hole! 😉 ). The question then becomes whether or how this radiating field of energy that is you continues to change and interact and retain a conscious identity. Given all we don’t know about the universe I remain unconvinced either way.

  26. 26
    Josh Bozeman says:

    A CD doesn’t contain information itself. It contains bits of code…the information content isn’t information until it can be deciphered by a person.

    That gets to the heart of the meaning of information itself, which isn’t the same as the bits of code on a CD, or the written ink on a paper.

    Wikipedia’s article on information makes this note:

    Information is a term with many meanings depending on context, but is as a rule closely related to such concepts as meaning, knowledge, instruction, communication, representation, and mental stimulus.

    Information is the knowledge and meaning GAINED from the written ink or the bits of code itself. You can’t reduce a computer code to information, they’re not the same thing. 011001100111000 isn’t information- only when a computer deciphers that code and the human brain recognizes the content and gains knowledge through it is it actually information.

  27. 27
    taciturnus says:

    DaveScot,

    You wrote:

    “You posited 2+2=4 is immaterial yet in order to store and convey the information you needed matter and energy. Information is physical. Absent matter and energy information cannot exist.”

    Everyone grants that matter and energy are needed for us to convey information. The materialist argument says a lot more than this, however. It says that information is itself NOTHING BUT matter and energy. To make this case, the materialist has to point to more than the fact that we store information physically. He has to show how thoughts like “2+2=4” can be understood in purely material terms. Examples of brain pathology don’t even start to make this case.

    The reason the immaterial mind was even posited by philosophers in the first place was because they saw that rational thought could not be explained in purely material terms. A very simple and ancient point is that “2+2=4” cannot be purely physical because if it was, then you and I could not both think it since we do not share brain matter. Now maybe this argument is wrong, but to prove it wrong, the materialist needs to give an account of mathematical thought in purely material terms that also accounts for the fact that we can share thoughts.

    The fact that I need matter and energy to transmit information proves that, well, I need matter and energy to transmit information. It doesn’t answer the arguments that indicate that rational thought cannot have a purely material basis.

    Cheers,
    Dave T.

    Dave T.

  28. 28
    PaV says:

    Dave Scott: “Now here’s some questions for you – does the hypothetical immaterial soul require training to process information? Does the bear have a soul too?

    As to the first question (I didn’t mention “soul”), the answer is “no.” It needs “information.”

    As to the second, the answer is “yes.” But it’s not the same kind of a soul as a human.

  29. 29
    DaveScot says:

    Josh, a CD does indeed contain information in and of itself, regardless of whether it has personal meaning to you or anyone else. Every particle in the universe has information associated with it. The information content is defined in quantum theory and includes properties such as spin, charge, and location. You are obviously laboring under an incorrect, incomplete, or abitrary definition of information.

  30. 30
    DaveScot says:

    “The reason the immaterial mind was even posited by philosophers in the first place was because” …

    Was because their knowledge of the brain and how it functions was as close to nil as you can get and they had to either guess about it or remain silent.

  31. 31
    Josh Bozeman says:

    Maybe we’re speaking of information in different terms, but this is what I was getting at. Well, part of what I was getting at.

    From IDEA:
    http://acs.ucsd.edu/~idea/infotheory.htm

    The point I was making was- the information itself is not the same as the matter that contains the information. It only becomes information once we realize that it makes sense.

    DNA for example contains volumes upon volumes of information…but we only call it information because the material itself within DNA makes sense, it acts as a blueprint telling the particular type of DNA what to build, how much to build, where to build, when and were to start and stop the building, etc. If it was jumbled nonsense in DNA, we wouldn’t call it information.

    On a CD, a bunch of atoms encoded onto the disc is just that- a bunch of atoms, until it makes sense, then it becomes information. If we had no way of deciphering the content of the CD, it’d be a mess and wouldn’t contain information. 01001100100110010100 is nonsense, and we wouldn’t call it information because it serves us no purpose in this form and no knowledge can be gained by it in this form, but when those bits of code turn into meaningful text, we gain knowledge from it and it serves a purpose. Same for information within atoms- it’s only information because an atom itself can make sense of that material bits used to encode the information. If it was a jumbled mess that contained no plan, blueprint, etc. we wouldn’t consider it information.

  32. 32
    DaveScot says:

    Josh

    I’m talking about physics and the quantum theoretical definition of information. You’re talking about specified information which conforms to a independent pattern, which is a subset of all information.

    All information is still physical, including specified information. Information does not and cannot exist absent matter and energy. At least not as far as science can determine.

  33. 33
    DaveScot says:

    PaV

    “As to the first question (I didn’t mention “soul”), the answer is “no.” It needs “information.””

    Sure. And how is this information acquired if not through training?

    “As to the second, the answer is “yes.” But it’s not the same kind of a soul as a human.”

    I wasn’t aware there was such a thing as soul taxonomy. Care to elaborate?

  34. 34
    PaV says:

    Dave Scott: “Sure. And how is this information acquired if not through training?” I readily admit that information is acquired through, to use your term, “training”. But that nevertheless doesn’t make information the equivalent of “training”. Is music the same thing as vibrating strings?

    DS: “I wasn’t aware there was such a thing as soul taxonomy. Care to elaborate?”

    You can fight it out with St. Thomas Aquinas:

    http://www.personal.ceu.hu/stu.....i/soul.htm

  35. 35
    taciturnus says:

    DaveScot,

    ““The reason the immaterial mind was even posited by philosophers in the first place was because” …

    Was because their knowledge of the brain and how it functions was as close to nil as you can get and they had to either guess about it or remain silent. ”

    Then why do you remain so silent about giving a positive account of how rational thought can be explained in purely material terms? Snipping out my argument and substituting a wisecrack isn’t an answer…

    Dave T.

  36. 36
    Josh Bozeman says:

    Well, you’ll have to argue that point with Dembski then, because even he says in his writing that information isn’t reducible to matter or energy. ID, if I’m not mistaken, is partly based on the very fact that we now have to contend with 3 fundamental properties of the universe- matter and energy which we knew about, but now we have information which is neither matter nor energy.

  37. 37
    Josh Bozeman says:

    “The real duality at every level of biology is the duality of matter and information. The philosophers of mind-science fail to understand the true nature of information because they assume that it is produced by a material (i.e. Darwinian) process and hence is not something fundamentally different from matter. But this is merely a prejudice that would be swept away by unbiased thinking.”
    — Phillip E. Johnson, The Wedge of Truth: Splitting the Foundations of Naturalism , Intervarsity Press, Illinois, 2000, p. 123

  38. 38
    Josh Bozeman says:

    “A coding system always entails a nonmaterial intellectual process. A physical matter cannot produce an information code. All experiences show that every piece of creative information represents some mental effort and can be traced to a personal idea-giver who exercised his own free will, and who is endowed with an intelligent mind…. There is no known law of nature, no known process and no known sequence of events which can cause information to originate by itself in matter…”
    — Werner Gitt. In the Beginning Was Information. CLV, Bielefeld, Germany, pp. 107, 141

    (just found these 2 quotes in Bill’s cafepress shop).

  39. 39
    taciturnus says:

    Josh,

    The source of the illusion that information is mere matter comes from the fact that matter can be used to *represent* information. But the information *itself* can’t be matter, or you wouldn’t be able to use two different bits of matter to represent the same information. It’s a simple syllogism:

    1. The same piece of matter cannot be in two different places at the same time.
    2. Information is a piece of matter.
    3. Therefore information cannot be in two different places at the same time.

    If true, then you and I can’t know “2+2=4” at the same time. But we CAN know “2+2=4” at the same time, which means that either premise #1 or #2 is false. Since #1 is obviously true, #2 must be false. Matter represents information, but is not that information itself.

    This argument is very ancient, and as I am learning, modern materialists don’t refute it, they just ignore it.

    Cheers,
    David T

  40. 40
    Josh Bozeman says:

    Thanks David. That’s what I’m saying with the physical and information. You have to use matter to represent information but not reduce it to matter. The link (I think it’s in this thread) of the message (information) that takes numerous different forms…a cell phone from someone on a beach, to someone else who hears it over the phone, without an exchange of matter itself, the person on the phone then tells another person via sign language (a totally different format, no way it could be a transfer of matter), that person sends a plane that then rights the same message with the same information content in the sky over the original caller’s head. All the same information, taking many different forms, no matter or energy is actually transferred, etc.

  41. 41
    DaveScot says:

    “All the same information, taking many different forms, no matter or energy is actually transferred, etc.”

    Yes, it is. You just don’t understand physics behind it well enough. Photons travel from one point to another in any visual messages such as skywriting. Electrons are shuffled around in the phone. Chemical and electrical changes occur in your brain when you hear it. It’s all very physical.

  42. 42
    DaveScot says:

    Taciturnus

    2+2=4 is not information. It’s a mutually agreed upon meaning. You are confusing subjective meaning with objective information.

  43. 43
    DaveScot says:

    Taciturnus

    “Then why do you remain so silent about giving a positive account of how rational thought can be explained in purely material terms?”

    I have explained it. You don’t accept the explanation. You insist that some mystical immaterial stuff or force that no one can measure is at work. I guess I need to start cueing up the Ghost Buster’s theme again. Do you believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny too?

  44. 44
    DaveScot says:

    PaV “You can fight it out with St. Thomas Aquinas”

    Dead people don’t fight.

  45. 45
    DaveScot says:

    There’s a saying: “Never argue with idiots. They drag you down to their level then beat you with experience.”

    It’s time for a corrollary. “Never argue with mystics. They drag you down to their level then beat you with experience.”

  46. 46
    Josh Bozeman says:

    Dave never fails to belittle the religious among us. Comparing them to believers in santa claus and the easter bunny.

  47. 47
    taciturnus says:

    DaveScot,

    I’m sorry if I am frustrating you. I don’t think my questions are based on mysticism. I can honestly say I don’t accept the purely material mind because I have never heard (from you, or anyone else) a satisfactory account of how rational thought can be explained in material terms. Frankly, the situation is the same as Darwinism. A Darwinist shows you a couple of fossils and claims that one evolved from the other. I ask for an account of exactly how one evolved into the other, and the Darwinist flies into a rage and calls me “religious.” The materialist points to pathological brain cases and claims that all thought is merely material. I ask him to account for exactly how rational thought can be understood in purely material terms, and he calls me “mystical”. (It is revealing that “mystical” is assumed to be an insult. I’m not sure it is. Maybe St. John of the Cross knew something I don’t.).

    “I have explained it. You don’t accept the explanation. You insist that some mystical immaterial stuff or force that no one can measure is at work. I guess I need to start cueing up the Ghost Buster’s theme again. Do you believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny too?”

    I must have missed the explanation. All I have seen you do is say over and over again that to store information, you need matter and energy, then personally insult anyone who disagrees with you.

    What is needed is an account of how rational thought can be understood in purely material terms, just like Darwinists need to give an account of how eyes and wings evolved in purely material terms, not merely point to fossils that indicate that organisms with wings came later than those without, claim they are done, then dismiss anyone objecting as “religious” (or as “mystics.”)

    Case in point:

    “2+2=4 is not information. It’s a mutually agreed upon meaning. You are confusing subjective meaning with objective information.”

    Your statement says nothing without an explanation of “meaning” on a purely material basis. It merely displaces the question of whether “information” is physical to the question of whether “meaning” is physical. If “meaning” is non-physical, then you need to give an account of how a purely material mind can have contact with and understand the non-physical. If “meaning” is physical, then you need to give an account of where it exists and how we can share it, since we do not share the matter of our brains. There is nothing “mystical” about these questions. They follow logically from your assertions.

    Please bear with me.

    Cheers,
    Dave T.

  48. 48
    taciturnus says:

    Josh,

    Who says I’m religious? Nothing I have written indicates that I am. My arguments are mostly drawn from Aristotle. The irony is that Aristotle’s philosophy was resisted in the Middle Ages for being too secular and not sufficiently “mystical”. Now he is too religious!

    Cheers,
    David T.

  49. 49
    DaveScot says:

    Information is a physical property of matter/energy like temperature. Like temperature it can be measured and physical laws formulated to predict its behavior. To try to separate information as something separate from matter/energy is like trying to separate temperature from matter/energy. Temperature is meaningless without matter/energy.

    What y’all here are doing is conflating subjective meaning with objective information. Subjective meaning is what Dembski refers to in CSI as conformance to an independently given pattern. 10976561907761409726786145098725890 is objective information and it can be measured. It’s complex information. If it represents a password then it is complex specified information. Dembski’s problem is that specification appears subjective and resists measurement. To be scientific, or rigorously mathematical which IMO is the same thing, specification needs to be objectively quantifiable and amenable to measurement. Maybe he’s done that and I just don’t understand it along with a whole bunch of other folks. The nut is that I intuitively know that he’s right. CSI is like beauty – it’s difficult to define but we know it when we see it.

  50. 50
    Josh Bozeman says:

    I’m referring to those among us who see evidence of immaterial information and mind and how it points to a non-phsyical realm, which most would see as a spiritual realm.

  51. 51
    taciturnus says:

    Dave,

    Here is the problem with defining information as a physical property of matter/energy like temperature. Temperature can be directly measured because it carries a one-to-one relationship across physical processes. The air, my bathwater, and my kid’s body will all cause mercury to rise to a certain level in a tube that indicates 98.6 degrees if they are at the same temperature. In other words, 98.6 degrees reflects a limited set of physical possibilities.

    Unfortunately, information is not limited in this way. “2+2=4” is capable of being encoded in an infinite variety of ways. We might say that the MEANING of “2+2=4” sets no limits on how it might be physically represented. (Of course, some representations are more useful than others.) This is the reason that human language is infinitely variable, but human science will be the same everywhere (assuming it works.) It’s also the reason that there will never be an objective, purely physical way of detecting information. There’s just no way to say a priori what physical form information must take.

    It’s also the reason some of us doubt the purely material mind. If meaning is capable of being encoded in an infinite variety of physical forms, then whatever it is that understands and/or creates meaning cannot itself be physical, or it would not be potentially able to understand the variety of meaningful representations. That is why the detection of information will always involve a subjective component.

    Dave T.

  52. 52
    taciturnus says:

    I think my last post was a little unclear. Maybe an example will help.

    Mercury at a certain level in a thermometer indicates my kid has a 100 degree temperature. There is no ambiguity here. Temperature maps to a definite physical state in one-to-one correspondence.

    What does the meaning “2+2=4” map to as a physical state of letters? At least, it could map to “2+2=4” or “two plus two equals four” or “10 + 10 = 100”, etc., etc., in an infinite variety of ways. There is no way to pre-specify what form information must take. (Or, for DaveScot, meaning encoded as information). Therfore there is no way to specify a physical process that can unambiguously measure information.

    Dave T.

  53. 53
    PaV says:

    Dave Scott: “Dead people don’t fight.”

    No, they don’t. But they can, and do, leave legacies. I happen to agree with St. Thomas Aquinas and his, as you call it, “taxonomy” of souls. I’m sure Aquinas expresses these distinctions better than I ever could. So, I suggest you consult his arguments.

    But there still is the matter of the distinction between music and vibrating strings.

  54. 54
    DaveScot says:

    “But there still is the matter of the distinction between music and vibrating strings.”

    It’s the same distinction that exists between a blister and a flame. What’s your point?

    “I’m sure Aquinas expresses these distinctions better than I ever could. So, I suggest you consult his arguments.”

    Taxonomy of the immaterial. You’ll forgive me if I don’t waste any further time contemplating classification systems for ghosts. I merely pointed out the absurdity of it for the record.

  55. 55
    DaveScot says:

    traciturnus

    “Therfore there is no way to specify a physical process that can unambiguously measure information.”

    Yes, there is. You fail to distinguish the difference between objective information and subjective meaning. I can spoonfeed this stuff to you if you’d just stop making faces and spitting it out.

  56. 56
    taciturnus says:

    DaveScot,

    Graceful as always I see.

    You keep using the words “objective information” and “subjective meaning” without defining them, as I’ve asked you to. Saying the words over and over with different insults appended doesn’t tell me anything.

    If you are going to spoonfeed, then spoonfeed me this:

    What is the definition of “meaning”? Please don’t use the word “information” in the definition, because you use the word “meaning” to define “information” and your definitions would be circular.

    And – this is very important – is “meaning” physical or non-physical?

    Cheers,
    Dave T.

  57. 57
    taciturnus says:

    Dave,

    At one point you gave this definition:

    “Subjective meaning is what Dembski refers to in CSI as conformance to an independently given pattern.”

    Is the independently given pattern physical? If so, what is the independently given physical pattern that conforms to the subjective meaning “2+2=4”?

    Dave T.

  58. 58
    PaV says:

    PAV: “But there still is the matter of the distinction between music and vibrating strings.”

    DS: It’s the same distinction that exists between a blister and a flame. What’s your point?

    That’s an inept reply. The point is obvious: stringed instruments produce “music”: that is, the physical expression of music; but the music, itself, is the product of the human mind. Beethoven’s Fifth didn’t exist before Beethoven. Therefore, the question is: where did this information come from?

  59. 59
    keiths says:

    PaV asks:
    “Beethoven’s Fifth didn’t exist before Beethoven. Therefore, the question is: where did this information come from?”

    Answer: from the Conservatory of Babel, which is next to, but infinitely far from, the Library of Babel.

    See Jorge Luis Borges’ famous story “The Library of Babel,” which describes a library containing all possible books of a certain size written with a fixed character set. Borges’ narrator suspects that the library is unlimited but periodic.

    It can be difficult to find what you’re looking for:
    “For every rational line or forthright statement there are leagues of senseless cacophony, verbal nonsense, and incoherency.”

    But it also contains
    “all that is able to be expressed, in every language. All — the detailed history of the future, the autobiographies of the archangels, the faithful catalog of the Library, thousands and thousands of false catalogs, a proof of the falsity of the true catalog, the gnostic gospel of Basilides, the commentary upon that gospel, the commentary on the commentary on that gospel, the true story of your death, the translation of every book into every language, the interpolations of every book into all books, the treatise Bede could have written (but did not) on the mythology of the Saxon people, the lost books of Tacitus.”

    To that I would add

    1) the complete text of the upcoming Dover decision,
    2) a book entitled “Icons of Intelligent Design: Mt. Rushmore Was NOT Designed!”,
    3) “Across the Great Divide”, an account of the tumultuous but ultimately triumphant love affair of Phillip Johnson and Eugenie Scott,
    4) biographical sketches describing Ken Miller’s militant atheism and Richard Dawkins’ devotion to the Catholic Church, culminating in his martyrdom and sainthood,
    5) a book review in which Bill Dembski is described as “the Wayne Newton of information theory”, and
    6) a musical comedy based on the Dover trial, entitled “That’s Not What You Said in Your Deposition!”

    Borges also wrote (elsewhere):
    “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library,” though he probably did not have the Library of Babel in mind.

    Borges was appointed director of Argentina’s National Library in 1955, the same year in which he went blind.

    He wrote:

    No one should read self-pity or reproach
    Into this statement of the majesty of God, who with such splendid irony
    Granted me books and blindness in one touch

  60. 60
    PaV says:

    keiths: Your response reminds me of the ‘solution’ to the problem of the ‘Anthropic Principle’: that is, ‘an infinite number of infinite universes; ours just happens to be the one that turned out to be conducive to life.’ Logic is stretched to the breaking point by these kinds of (pseudo) ‘solutions’.

  61. 61
    keiths says:

    PaV,

    I assume you understood that my citation of Borges was in jest; your response is a bit ambiguous on that point.

    As for the multiverse hypothesis, it’s not obvious to me how it stretches logic “to the breaking point.” Could you elaborate?

    Occam’s Razor would suggest that we avoid invoking multiple universes without justification, but if a multiverse model ends up fitting the data better than any single-universe model, and furthermore makes predictions which are testable within our own universe, I see nothing that logically requires us to reject it out of hand.

    If there’s something inherently illogical about positing a multiverse, was it illogical for Curtis to propose that there were many galaxies beyond our own before telescopes were powerful enough to show this?

  62. 62

    […] Update: Ken Silber writes in to point out that William Dembski, one of the most prominent Intelligent Design ideologues, has now latched on to the string theory controversy as evidence that mainstream science is no better than ID. Dembski has both comments on Susskind and comments on David Gross’s admission that string theory is in trouble. […]

  63. 63
    PaV says:

    keiths: “If there’s something inherently illogical about positing a multiverse, was it illogical for Curtis to propose that there were many galaxies beyond our own before telescopes were powerful enough to show this?”

    Yes, there is. An infinite number of infinite universes is infinity-squared more complex than saying God created the universe. And, please tell, how does this infinity-squared complexity compare to simply projecting out from the boundaries of our galaxies? This is a simple projection of the “known” into farther realms, whereas the infinity-squared silliness says that there are an infinite number of universes that are different from the one we live in. The former is like extending the x,y, and z-axes, while the latter is that there is an infinite number of x,y, and z-axes. So, in terms of predicting other galaxies, the multiverse is only ‘infinitely’ more, and not infinity-squared more, complex.

  64. 64
    Gumpngreen says:

    A quote relevant to the discussion:

    “Inflation itself takes a very small universe and produces from it a very big universe. But inflation by itself does not explain where that very small universe came from. Eternal inflation is eternal into the future, not the past. Those bubble universes may keep inflating eternally into the future, but we’re still left without an explanation for what caused the first bubble. ” –Alan Guth

  65. 65
    secondclass says:

    Dave, as pointed out in previous threads, information can be destroyed in a deterministic universe.

    Say what? Not according to Stephen Hawking. Who should I believe, him or you? http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn6151 -ds

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