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Do we need a context to identify a message as the product of an intelligent being?

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In today’s short post, I shall argue that (a) there are at least some messages which we can identify as the product of an intelligent agent, regardless of their linguistic and social context, and (b) there is no context in which it would be reasonable for us to conclude that a message visible to everyone was a hallucination.

What prompted this discussion

In a post titled Signature in the cell?, Professor Edward Feser argued that no message, in and of itself, could warrant the inference that it was the product of an intelligent agent, without a knowledge of the context of the message. Referring to the hypothetical scenario in which a “Made by Yahweh” message was discovered in every human being’s cells, Feser wrote:

If we’re to judge that Yahweh, rather than extraterrestrial pranksters, hallucination, or some other cause, was behind such an event, it is considerations other than the event itself that will justify us in doing so.

The reference to “hallucination, or some other cause” (presumably a natural one) as a possible explanation for the “Made by Yahweh” message in every human being’s cells led me to infer that Feser was acknowledging the legitimacy of a hyper-skeptical stance here – a position for which I criticized him in a subsequent post. Feser wrote a follow-up post in reply, in which he clarified his position:

I neither said nor implied that it would be “perfectly rational” to interpret phrases like the ones in question [e.g. the “Made by Yahweh” message in every cell – VJT] as hallucinations or as something other than a product of intelligence… What I said is that determining what to make of such weird events would crucially depend on epistemic background context, and that if we concluded that God was responsible (as of course we well might), then that epistemic background context would be doing more work in justifying that judgment than the weird events themselves would be.

In a comment attached to a recent post on Professor Feser’s Website, I pressed him to answer two simple questions of mine:

…[A]s an ID theorist, I happen to think it’s absolutely obvious that we can identify some messages as the work of an intelligent designer, regardless of context… From my reading of your [earlier] post, it seemed to me that you were saying that context was essential when drawing the inference that a message was the work of an intelligent agent. I would profoundly disagree.

I’d like to bury the hatchet, so I’ll ask you two questions:

1. Do you agree that if a message saying “Made by _____” were discovered in every human’s cells, it would be irrational to explain away the discovery as a mass hallucination, regardless of whether the message referred to God, Quetzalcoatl, or Steve Jobs as its author?

2. Do you agree that if the message were suitably long and specific (say, 100 characters of perfectly grammatical English with no repetition), it would be irrational not to ascribe the message to an intelligent agent, regardless of the message’s context?

As we’ll see below, Feser’s answer to both questions was “No.”
Feser replied:

…[O]ther readers have already pointed out what is wrong with your questions. Of course context would be relevant to interpreting such messages. Now, I can easily imagine contexts in which it would be extremely unreasonable to say “Oh, this is a hallucination” and I can easily imagine contexts in which it would not be. If we describe various possible contexts in enough detail, we can certainly see how they would make a clear answer possible. That’s why there’s nothing remotely skeptical about what I said. Give us a specific context and sure, we can decide “This suggested interpretation is just indefensible” or “That suggested interpretation is extremely plausible.” But it’s silly to say “Let’s abstract from all context and then ask what the most probable source of the phrase is.” As Mike Flynn pointed out above, there’s no such thing as the most probable source absent all context.

Feser continued:

BTW, Vincent’s attempt to wriggle out of the problem context poses for his position is like certain point-missing attempts to solve the “commonsense knowledge problem” in AI [artificial intelligence – VJT]. As Hubert Dreyfus argues, it makes no sense to think that intelligence can be reduced to a set of explicitly formulated rules and representations, because there are always various context-dependent ways to interpret the rules and representations. To say “Oh, we’ll just put the ‘right’ interpretation into the rules and representations” completely misses the point, since it just adds further rules and representations that are themselves subject to alternative context-dependent interpretations.

Vincent is doing something similar when he tries to come up with these goofy examples of really long messages written in the cell. It completely misses the point, because that’s just further stuff the import of which depends on a larger context. It also completely misses the point to shout “Skepticism!”, just as an AI defender would be completely missing the point if he accused Dreyfus of being a skeptic. There’s nothing skeptical about it. We can know what the context is and thus we can know what the right interpretation is; we just can’t know the right interpretation apart from all context.

What is a context, anyway?

Remarkably, nowhere in his post does Professor Feser attempt to define what he means by a context – a curious omission. So I’m going to go with a standard dictionary definition: “the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed.” I should mention that there is another definition for context: “the parts of something written or spoken that immediately precede and follow a word or passage and clarify its meaning.” However, in the case under consideration, we are looking at a short isolated message, with nothing preceding or following it. So the questions we need to confront are: do we need to attend to “the circumstances that form the setting” for the purported message, in order to rationally conclude that it is (a) not a collective hallucination we are all having, and (b) from an intelligent source? Feser contends that we do, and I maintain that we do not.

Feser’s absurd epistemic claim: there are some contexts in which hallucination may be a reasonable explanation for the discovery of a purported message in every human’s cells

I’d like to go back to a remark Feser made above:

Of course context would be relevant to interpreting such messages. Now, I can easily imagine contexts in which it would be extremely unreasonable to say “Oh, this is a hallucination” and I can easily imagine contexts in which it would not be.

What Feser is saying here is that there are at least some contexts in which it would not be unreasonable [i.e. it might be reasonable] for us to conclude that a purported message discovered by scientists in every human being’s cells was in fact a hallucination. This, I have to say, is outright nonsense.

In order to see why it’s nonsense, let’s imagine a scenario which is as generous to Professor Feser’s case as it is possible to be. Let’s suppose that a worldwide magnetic storm is playing havoc with people’s brains, causing them to hallucinate. It has been claimed that magnetic stimulation of the brain can trigger religious hallucinations, although the evidence for this claim is very thin. But let’s suppose for argument’s sake that this claim is true. During the magnetic storm, some scientists suddenly announce the discovery of a “Made by Yahweh” message in every human being’s cells. Other scientists around the world rush to confirm the claim. Could they all be seeing things in their laboratories? Could mass hallucination be a rational explanation for this sudden discovery of what appears to be a message in our cells?

No, it couldn’t – unless all the world’s scientists have not only started hallucinating, but lost their ability to reason, as well. But that wasn’t the scenario envisaged by Feser: his assertion that he can imagine at least some contexts where it would not be unreasonable to conclude that a purported message was a hallucination presupposes that the people drawing this conclusion still possess the use of reason, even in these far-fetched contexts.

One obvious way in which scientists could confirm that the message was real – even during a magnetic storm that was playing havoc with their perceptions – would be to use double-blind testing, with a control sample of similar-looking cells (say, synthetic cells, or perhaps cells from another species) that did not contain the “Made by Yahweh” message. (A control sample of synthetic cells might contain no message at all, or alternatively, a different message – “Made by Craig Venter” – might be inserted into the cells.) If testing on different scientists produced consistent results – e.g. if they all reported seeing the same message in the same cells – then the hallucination hypothesis would be decisively ruled out, as an explanation.

Interpretation is not the same thing as decoding: why the commonsense knowledge problem is irrelevant to the Intelligent Design project

In his reply to my questions, Feser alluded to the work of AI researcher Hubert Dreyfus, who in a book titled Mind over Machine (Free Press, 1986) which he co-authored with Stuart Dreyfus, defined the commonsense knowledge problem as “how to store and access all the facts human beings seem to know” (1986, p. 78). As Wikipedia notes, “The problem is considered to be among the hardest in all of AI research because the breadth and detail of commonsense knowledge is enormous.”

As we’ve seen, Feser contends that because the correct interpretation of a rule invariably requires contextual knowledge, any attempt to infer that a purported message is in fact the product of an intelligent agent, apart from all context, is doomed to failure. But what Feser is assuming here is that the identification of a purported message as the work of an intelligent agent requires a correct interpretation of that message. As an Intelligent Design advocate, I disagree: all it requires is the decoding of that message, and it may not even require that. (If the message could be independently shown to be both highly specific and astronomically improbable, I believe it would be rational to infer on these grounds alone that an intelligent agent was most likely responsible for producing the alleged message, even if we had no idea what it was about.) Hence Professor Feser’s assertion that “we just can’t know the right interpretation apart from all context” is beside the point.

Decoding a message is very easy, if it is written in the script of a language we already understand: all we need to do is read each word of the script and confirm that it conforms to the grammatical and spelling rules of the language in question. Depending on the language in question, the code we use when reading the words – something we all learned to do at school – may be either a phonic code (for alphabetic scripts), a syllabic code, a logographic code (for ideograms) or a pictographic code. Even if sentence turns out to be grammatically correct, but semantically nonsensical, like Noam Chomsky’s “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously”, decoding it is still a relatively straightforward affair. And if we found such a message inscribed on the walls of every human cell, we should have no hesitation in concluding that some intelligent agent was responsible, even if we didn’t know who that agent was.

(Note: I should like to make it clear that I do not regard people’s ability to read texts written in their own native language as part of the context of a purported message in that language. Defining “context” in this way would make the term absurdly broad. Rather, I would see the ability to read a language as a presupposition of there being any messages in that language at all. The term “context” refers to circumstances that help us understand the meaning of a message, and does not include the ability to decode a script.)

Decoding a message is harder when it is written in a language we understand, but where the message is encrypted, using a cipher. In such cases, we might think that at least some background knowledge was essential, in order to decode the message. However, there have been occasions when ciphers were reconstructed through the power of pure deduction – for example, the German Lorenz cipher and the Japanese Purple code. Having successfully decoded the message, it would be the very height of irrationality not to ascribe the message to an intelligent agent, even if we knew nothing of the message’s context. For instance, the message might say, “The weather is sunny,” but in spy-talk that might really mean: “The coast is clear: we can proceed with our plan.” But even if we had no idea of the message’s true import, we could still legitimately infer that it originated from an intelligent source, once we had decoded it.

When the message is written in an unknown language, decoding is complicated by the mathematical fact that there’s always some cipher that can be used to transform an unknown message into any string of English characters you want. This point was made by one of my critics, named Scott, who argued: “100 characters of perfectly grammatical English wouldn’t look like any such thing to anyone who didn’t already read English. For that matter, given a hundred of anything, there’s some cipher according to which the series encodes any 100-character string you care to choose.” In practice, successful decoding of scripts in unknown languages, such as Linear A (used in Crete over 3,000 years ago), relies heavily on context-related clues. The question then arises: what should we conclude if astronauts found what appeared to be an inscription in an unknown language on the Moon or Mars? Without a context of any sort, could we still make the inference that the inscription came from an intelligent source?

I believe we can. A simple illustration will suffice. In 2013, two scientists writing in the journal Icarus argued that there were patterns in the genetic code of living organisms that were highly statistically significant, with features indicative of intelligence which were inconsistent with any known natural process. (The authors of the paper, Vladimir I. Cherbak of al-Farabi Kazakh National University of Kazakhstan, and Maxim A. Makukov of the Fesenkov Astrophysical Institute, list several categories of natural processes, and they are clearly familiar with the relevant scientific literature on the subject.) “Simple arrangements of the code reveal an ensemble of arithmetical and ideographical patterns of symbolic language,” they wrote. These features included decimal notation, logical transformation and the abstract symbol zero. Summing up, the authors argued:

In total, not only the signal itself reveals intelligent-like features – strict nucleon equalities, their decimal notation, logical transformation accompanying the equalities, the symbol of zero and semantic symmetries, but the very method of its extraction involved abstract operations – consideration of idealized (free and unmodified) molecules, distinction between their blocks and chains, the activation key, contraction and decomposition of codons. We find that taken together all these aspects point at artificial nature of the patterns.

The authors tentatively concluded that the decimal system in the genetic code “was invented outside the Solar System already several billions (sic) years ago.” (H/t: Max for correction to my wording.)

Regardless of whether the authors’ claims turn out to be true or not – and I’m not holding my breath – the point is that the identification of the signal they claimed to find in our genetic code was made on purely mathematical grounds, apart from all considerations of context. In order to rule out a natural (as opposed to artificial) source for the message, the only thing the authors needed to ascertain was whether it could be accounted for by known natural causes. One could always hypothesize the existence of a natural cause capable of generating these mathematical features, but the authors argue that the only reasonable inference to draw is that the signal they claim to find in the genetic code is an artificial one, generated by an intelligent source.

(I should point out here that our knowledge of what natural processes are capable of generating is not contextual knowledge, but scientific knowledge. As I stated above, the term “context” properly refers to circumstances that help us understand the meaning of a message. Our knowledge of processes occurring in Nature does not help us to do that.)

I conclude, then, that Professor Feser’s contention that the identification of a purported message as the product of an intelligent source cannot be made, apart from all context, is baseless and incorrect. I hope that Professor Feser will be gracious enough to acknowledge this in the future.

Comments
R0bb:
But the pin is one of the components that jointly determine whether there will be sound or silence.
In what sense of the word "determine" does the pin determine that there will be sound? In what sense of the word "determine" does the pin determine that there will be no sound? In what sense of the word "determine" can the pin be said to determine both sound and absence of sound?Mung
August 25, 2014
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Mung @499 I like the recap. It appears to be either volitional design or sheer dumb luck, and it's ain't sheer dumb luck.Upright BiPed
August 25, 2014
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I say that a pin plucks a tine, which starts the tine vibrating. This in turn causes variations in air pressure, which we then perceive as sound. By doing this, the device serves its function. There isn’t one bit of this process that is even the slightest bit controversial; it is a statement that could be repeated and understood to reasonably-educated people of any stripe. Yet from this, an otherwise intelligent person actually wants to argue the observation. This is a waste of time. = = = = = = = = = = = = R0bb wants to argue that the pin and the tine jointly determine that sound occurs. But, the pin cannot produce sound. The tine is the only object in the system capable of producing the sound. The pin plucks the tine, but the tine itself determines whether there will be sound. If you don’t believe me, then replace the brass tine with a limp noodle. No sound. **And if you should then argue that replacing the pin with a limp noodle results in no sound as well, I will remind you that it is not because the pin cannot serve its role of causing sound, it’s because the pin no longer serves its role of plucking the tine. This conversation is silly. = = = = = = = = = = = = Robb also doesn’t seem to understand the point made in 497. Allow me to state it as clearly as I can: My claim is that there is always a discontinuity between the arrangement of the representation and the effect it evokes in the system. There is no representation in the cave, and thus, no discontinuity.Upright BiPed
August 25, 2014
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Silver Asiatic @506, Yep, you got it. And in 200 years, some paranoid aliens will nuke us as a result. lol Or maybe will decide to colonize the planet since the current inhabitants are obviously idiots. So, how is the imagery in the binary any different from an astonishing likeness of Elvis Presley on a slice of toast or the Madonna on a moldy wall? Then there are some truly stunning examples of early hominid rock art! http://portablerockart.blogspot.com/2012_08_01_archive.html Amazingly, some of these stones might actually be diamonds! ;-) (Hat tip to Monty Python) -QQuerius
August 25, 2014
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R0bb, you at least get started on the right note:
If your point is that the length of the tine determines the pitch, then that’s certainly true.
If the length of the tine determines the pitch, what role does the pin play in determining the pitch?
But the pin is one of the components that jointly determine whether there will be sound or silence.
Even if this were true, which it isn't, so what? By the way, you're just making Upright BiPed's case for him by agreeing that there is in fact a physical discontinuity.Mung
August 25, 2014
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Does a single-pin music box have it? Does RD’s cave?
Follow-up ... you could have a single pin music box that did not have mapping and you could have the cave with mapping. Music box: The designer attempted to saw off all the pins. So, it was designed to play nothing. However, in the sawing process one new bump was created accidentally. Would the sound that came from that have mapping and translation? Would it have evidence of intelligent design? No, it was accidental, not designed. It would be like a squeek in the rotation of the cylinder that happened to play middle C. That's not a translation of information to receiver. That's random - like a water drop falling. RDF's Cave: As mentioned, this could have mapping. A post-modernist composer could have carved grooves in the cave ceiling to direct water to the puddle in deliberate pattern in order to create specific tones. It could actually sound like a melody or it could sound random (think Jackson Pollack painting). So, the sounds were deliberately designed, mapped and translated via a design-process. There is an attempt to communicate - to transmit an artistic message.Silver Asiatic
August 25, 2014
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Robb @ 505 I hope I don't add to the confusion ...
This is the crux of my confusion. Is it possible to have two physically identical music boxes, where one has this necessary mapping and the other does not? How do I ascertain whether a given system has such a mapping?
You have to evaluate the output of the system. The most important aspect of the music box, in this exercise, is the repetition and regularity of sounds. I think that needed clarification. The production of a single note doesn't work. The fact that the cylinder creates the sound on a regular and repeated basis is evidence of the mapping. The cave produces a single note, or a lot of notes - but they're not repeated with regularity. Once you have that evidence, you know there is mapping. So no, if you had two identical music boxes that played something, they both have mapping. The mapping was added to the box, but it is not a physical component - it is the design. I would have to correct my previous point - it's not the melody that is evidence of design, but it's the regularity of repetition. So, the cylinder is the most essential aspect. For example, if you had a music box with a flat plate instead of a cylinder, and after running the plate through, all the pins were broken off. So, it only played one time. Plus, the pins were created by a random process - so there's no discernable melody, rhythm or harmonic structure ... then there would be no evidence of mapping. There would be no evidence of a communication-network, or information transmission - no translation. It would just be random sounds played once. The fact that the music box repeats sounds in exactly the same way is the secret to this. So, I also disagree that a single note indicates "form". A single note repeated consistently does, but not just a random, unspecified note played one time. That would be the same as the cave. If, however, you specified that you wanted to hear that specific note - that would be different. The music box would produce that note on demand, while the cave would not.
Does a single-pin music box have it? Does RD’s cave?
The single-pin would have it as above in a few cases: 1. It was known what the note was supposed to be. 2. The note could be repeated and played on-demand. For example, if you had a music box that played one note but could not repeat it and broke the pin after playing ... that would not show mapping. Because the pin could have been created by a random process - with no design-intent at all. There would be no intelligence at work. If you walked by the cave, not knowing if anyone was inside, and heard the sounds - you wouldn't necessarily know if it was designed or not. Chances are, you'd conclude that random sounds were produced naturally without intelligence. But they could have been produced by a music-machine or recorder -- and thus intelligently designed. So, RD's cave could have mapping. But there's less evidence of it. Someone could have drilled holes in the top of the cave so water would fall in a designed-pattern, in order to produce sounds. It would seem random when you heard it but it was actually mapped to sound that way. But that's like this here: aodidnggpasoiddnffawseruiond I 'designed' that gibberish. It looks random because it's the same as what a random typing would produce. There's no information in the content (I could have a secret-code there) - but I created that text deliberatly to prove a point in this comment. That would be the same as someone designing something in the cave for water drops. They would still sound random. If however, the cave played a piece by Mozart, we would have evidence of design from the output of the cave.Silver Asiatic
August 25, 2014
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Querius:
Nobody wanted to take a shot at the binary message? I’m disappointed.
I gave it a try @495. I could discern some visualizations in the code. It's interesting because the numeric code itself doesn't show the design but the pattern it takes does. This might be a good example of context is not necessary. You can see the patterns no matter how the code was generated or where it came from.
So, can you tell what the message is?
I thought it had something to do with alien life but I couldn't quite put it all together.Silver Asiatic
August 25, 2014
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Upright Biped:
I’m not trying to be flippant here, but how much of he sound is coming from the pin?
The immediate source of the compression wave that we call "sound" is neither the pin nor the tine, but both play crucial roles in the production of the sound.
The pin may start the tine vibrating, but it does nothing to determine what the sound will be.
If your point is that the length of the tine determines the pitch, then that's certainly true. But the pin is one of the components that jointly determine whether there will be sound or silence. Since, as you say, the pin starts the tine vibrating, it seems a little strange to say that "the pin has no role whatsoever in the production of the sound."
What is missing is the necessary mapping of the pins to the notes, which makes the arrangement of the pins functional.
This is the crux of my confusion. Is it possible to have two physically identical music boxes, where one has this necessary mapping and the other does not? How do I ascertain whether a given system has such a mapping? Does a single-pin music box have it? Does RD's cave?
I agree that a single note has form.
So does RD's cave, like the single-pin music box, have the capacity to produce form?
When you talk about “a larger choreographed effect”, are you referring to the fact that the music box used to play a song before you filed off all but one of the pins? If so, is this fact relevant to your claim that the single-pin music box has a physical discontinuity?
I answered this in 497.
I must be completely dense, because I read 497 and I still don't know the answers to those two questions.R0bb
August 24, 2014
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Nobody wanted to take a shot at the binary message? I'm disappointed. OK. The message did have an intelligent source. It was the 1974 Arecibo message composed by Frank Drake and Carl Sagan, and it was broadcast into space to try to communicate with presumed intelligent extraterrestrial recipients. So, can you tell what the message is? -QQuerius
August 24, 2014
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Hi Mung, Yes, that makes sense. Thanks for the explanation.Silver Asiatic
August 24, 2014
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Hi R0bb,
But isn’t the sound produced by the pin plucking the tine? If you take away the pin, does the effect remain the same?
I’m not trying to be flippant here, but how much of he sound is coming from the pin? The pin may start the tine vibrating, but it does nothing to determine what the sound will be.
And in #486 you talk about the system producing “effects that cannot be determined by the material make-up of the system.” But I don’t see (or hear) any effects that aren’t determined by the material make-up of the system, unless your definition of “material makeup” excludes properties such as the arrangement of the pins and the lengths of the tines.
What is missing is the necessary mapping of the pins to the notes, which makes the arrangement of the pins functional.
You’re distinguishing “the sounds of musical notes” from “form” — it seems to me that the latter supervenes on the former. Does any series of notes entail a “form”, or only series that we find melodic? How about a monotonous series of middle Cs, such as your single-pin music box or RD’s cave?
I agree that a single note has form. Beyond that, I’m not sure there is anything else here to respond to.
When you talk about “a larger choreographed effect”, are you referring to the fact that the music box used to play a song before you filed off all but one of the pins? If so, is this fact relevant to your claim that the single-pin music box has a physical discontinuity?
I answered this in 497.Upright BiPed
August 24, 2014
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Upright Biped, Also, the questions in #483 still stand. Thanks.R0bb
August 24, 2014
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Upright Biped, I was hoping for another articulation of your argument because I can't make sense of many of things you say. Such as:
In the music box example, the pin has nothing whatsoever with determining the effect – that is accomplished solely by the tine. The pin has no role whatsoever in the production of the sound.
But isn't the sound produced by the pin plucking the tine? If you take away the pin, does the effect remain the same? And in #486 you talk about the system producing "effects that cannot be determined by the material make-up of the system." But I don't see (or hear) any effects that aren't determined by the material make-up of the system, unless your definition of "material makeup" excludes properties such as the arrangement of the pins and the lengths of the tines. And again, in #486 you say:
Firstly, the music box very obviously has the capacity to produce the effect in question, i.e. make the sounds of musical notes. There is no doubt about that. However, it is demonstrating more than just the capacity to produce the effect, its also demonstrating the capacity to produce form, i.e. the form of the song.
You're distinguishing "the sounds of musical notes" from "form" -- it seems to me that the latter supervenes on the former. Does any series of notes entail a "form", or only series that we find melodic? How about a monotonous series of middle Cs, such as your single-pin music box or RD's cave?R0bb
August 24, 2014
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Hi SA, Upright BiPed's argument really has nothing to do with CSI. It's much more fundamental than that. Here's my attempt at describing the argument: There are fundamental requirements for the storage and transmission of information in a physical medium. This is known by observation. These requirements cannot be brought about by physical necessity. We find such a system at the center of life, without which even Darwinian evolution would not be possible. Therefore Darwinian evolution cannot explain it. Sine such systems cannot be explained by physical necessity or Darwinian evolution, there must be another explanation. One known to be capable of producing the effect.Mung
August 24, 2014
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UB Yes, that makes sense. Thanks. When you refer to "melody" above I think it's stronger. For example, if you discovered a single letter shape in a moon rock, it could easily be a random natural formation. Or, as someone argued on this thread, the word "Yahweh" can be found in DNA. But there's not enough CSI in that single word to be evidence of intelligence. If, however, it was a full sentence, that would be different. Where the water drops get interesting, is if you created a music box that replicated the sound of the actual drops in the cave. would that be a melody? Would that be a CSI? I think the key is in the nature of music. There is harmony, structure, and repetition. The music box would repeat the random sounds and therefore give evidence of intelligent design. Now what if the music box played John Cage's 4'33"? That sounds like one of the silly responses RDF would make. In any case I know what you're getting at. I think you offered a great argument. Yes, it does stand. Thanks for the explanation.Silver Asiatic
August 24, 2014
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SA, I understand your criticism. May I just say that RD was arguing that there was no difference in the two systems. He argued that neither system demonstrated a discontinuity, while I argued that not only is the discontinuity there (in the music box), but it is also a physical necessity that must be there. Consider if I built a music machine that (when wound up to play) did not use pins and tines to create the sounds, but used drops of water falling into differently sized containers of water. To accomplish this I would need some type of physical object to serve as a representation of the melody. I would also need to contrive some system of dropping water as a means to translate that representation. By doing this, I’ve co-opted RD’s dropping water as a means to play the notes. But to create the melody, I’ve had to create a representation of it, and there will most certainly be physical discontinuity between the representation I’ve created and the song being played by the dropping water. Again, I understand and appreciate your criticism, but the necessity of the discontinuity was my claim, and that claim stands no matter if the effect was a single note or a whole song. It is the fact that it's a necessity that RD needed to come to terms with.Upright BiPed
August 23, 2014
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OK, adding "part of a larger choreographed effect" is better. Otherwise you would just have middle C.Silver Asiatic
August 23, 2014
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Yes,intelligent source in the visualizations. Not sure of the message. maybe something like "we are aliens planning to leave our spacecraft for an invasion of your planet?"Silver Asiatic
August 23, 2014
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Hi Querius Just so you know, I wasn't using an analogy to make a point.Upright BiPed
August 23, 2014
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Also, hasn't it been said that that an analogy is the strongest argument but the weakest proof? FWIW, I'd use an analogy only to explain a difficult concept to a willing party. An unwilling party will feign ignorance and then either criticize your analogy and/or produce another one themselves. Here's my challenge to one and all. Can the following binary pattern be shown to originate from an intelligent source or not? If you think it does, what's the message? 00000010101010000000000 00101000001010000000100 10001000100010010110010 10101010101010100100100 00000000000000000000000 00000000000011000000000 00000000001101000000000 00000000001101000000000 00000000010101000000000 00000000011111000000000 00000000000000000000000 11000011100011000011000 10000000000000110010000 11010001100011000011010 11111011111011111011111 00000000000000000000000 00010000000000000000010 00000000000000000000000 00001000000000000000001 11111000000000000011111 00000000000000000000000 11000011000011100011000 10000000100000000010000 11010000110001110011010 11111011111011111011111 00000000000000000000000 00010000001100000000010 00000000001100000000000 00001000001100000000001 11111000001100000011111 00000000001100000000000 00100000000100000000100 00010000001100000001000 00001100001100000010000 00000011000100001100000 00000000001100110000000 00000011000100001100000 00001100001100000010000 00010000001000000001000 00100000001100000000100 01000000001100000000100 01000000000100000001000 00100000001000000010000 00010000000000001100000 00001100000000110000000 00100011101011000000000 00100000001000000000000 00100000111110000000000 00100001011101001011011 00000010011100100111111 10111000011100000110111 00000000010100000111011 00100000010100000111111 00100000010100000110000 00100000110110000000000 00000000000000000000000 00111000001000000000000 00111010100010101010101 00111000000000101010100 00000000000000101000000 00000000111110000000000 00000011111111100000000 00001110000000111000000 00011000000000001100000 00110100000000010110000 01100110000000110011000 01000101000001010001000 01000100100010010001000 00000100010100010000000 00000100001000010000000 00000100000000010000000 00000001001010000000000 01111001111101001111000 -QQuerius
August 23, 2014
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If the argument is that the music box plays middle C, then RDF’s water drops in a cave actually do the same thing. So, he wins that point. I would concede that to him. The music box plays middle C, so does the water drop, so does wind through a boarded-up house, so does a berry falling on a coconut. RDFish wins.
This is flatly incorrect. See #462Upright BiPed
August 23, 2014
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Now that rdfish is in moderation does that mean the number of comments on UD will go down 80%?
I would think so. To his credit, he's able to spin the arguments around quite nicely. He was already refuted about 200 posts back but if everyone wants to keep it up, I would suggest not getting angry with him but rather use his discussion as an opportunity to tighen-up our ID arguments. Not many of our opponents are willing to stay with it that long. Ok, I'll fill in for RDFish and play the bad guy for a minute. If the argument is that the music box plays middle C, then RDF's water drops in a cave actually do the same thing. So, he wins that point. I would concede that to him. The music box plays middle C, so does the water drop, so does wind through a boarded-up house, so does a berry falling on a coconut. RDFish wins. The problem? Upright Biped, in an admirable effort to explain things, actually oversimplified his already-simple argument. Remember, it was a simple-robot. There was no need to make it simpler. In fact, in so doing, it ruined the argument. We need to show CSI and middle C alone won't do it. For the same reason, Robb asked a question and I think he was sincerely confused, as I was:
When you talk about “a larger choreographed effect”, are you referring to the fact that the music box used to play a song before you filed off all but one of the pins? If so, is this fact relevant to your claim that the single-pin music box has a physical discontinuity?
There is no need to file off the pins. I didn't understand why you'd play only one note and yes, it's a confusing parallel between the music box fully functioning and the one that only plays middle C. When the music box plays Swan Lake or the Skater's Waltz, this argument is over. No need to file off pins. Keep them in place and we have CSI - evidence of design. When you find a cave with water drops playing Tchaikovsky, please let me know. :-) I meant that critique with respect for a good argument so I hope it's understood in the spirit I meant it. We might as well practice our argumentation with someone who simply won't stop, but who also looks for every tiny hole he can slip through (while ignoring the larger issues). I hope RDF will be released on good-behavior so the fun can begin again. 9 more to 500.Silver Asiatic
August 23, 2014
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R0bb:
The reason I ask is that it would help me to read your argument as articulated by someone else.
How long have you been here at UD now R0bb? Many others have provided articulations of the argument put forth by Upright BiPed, also right here at UD. RDFish is just the most recent example. (onlooker also comes to mind.) Is there somethi8ng you find lacking in their versions of it? By the way, Upright BiPed, I love your use of the music box. I own a music box that permits one cylinder to be replaced by another which produces a completely different tune. The tines may vibrate to produce the sound, but they in no way determine the song.Mung
August 23, 2014
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Upright BiPed:
It occurs to me that one of two things is true; you [RDFish] either have an advanced difficulty conceptualizing objects by what they do, or you’re trying hard not to.
I have to disagree with you here. The counter analogies RDFish employs demonstrate both the ability to conceptualize the issues and to understanding them. He just doesn't like where they lead, which is why he never addresses your argument but chooses rather to re-phrase your argument and address that and then pretend like he's addressed your argument. How many times have we seen that I wonder?Mung
August 23, 2014
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Now that rdfish is in moderation does that mean the number of comments on UD will go down 80%?jerry
August 23, 2014
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R0bb, All I have done is compile observations into a coherent model. The observations come from Crick, Von Neumann, Nirengerg, Pattee, Polanyi, Hoagland, Barbieri, and others. The foundational observations are not even controversial.Upright BiPed
August 23, 2014
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RD, Reading over your 473… It occurs to me that one of two things is true; you either have an advanced difficulty conceptualizing objects by what they do, or you’re trying hard not to. You’ve been given an example of a very simple translation system. It produces a functional effect from the arrangement of an informational medium, but the effect being produced has no physical relationship to the material medium used to produce it. The system accomplishes this surprising task by way of organization – a second arrangement in the system (a protocol) specifies the effect. In the music box, the protocol is: “this tine corresponds to that note” on the music scale. This is a systematic rule (not a law) and is instantiated in the organization of the comb. Without this specification, the arrangement of the pins would be useless. However, with that specification, the system can produce effects that cannot be determined by the material make-up of the system. You’ve engaged none of these fundamentals. Instead, you’ve offered the silly counter-example of a drop of water creating a sound when it hits the pool at the bottom of a cave. Apparently feeling like you’ve accomplished the job of smashing the observations, you stamp “QED” at the bottom of your post. Frankly, you may have situational awareness issues to go along with your inability to conceptualize objects. What if you came upon a music box, but had never seen or heard of one before. You wind it up and stand there as it plays a melody in front of you. This thing, made of brass and wood, can play a song! What would you think of it? There are a couple of things you could know immediately. Firstly, the music box very obviously has the capacity to produce the effect in question, i.e. make the sounds of musical notes. There is no doubt about that. However, it is demonstrating more than just the capacity to produce the effect, its also demonstrating the capacity to produce form, i.e. the form of the song. This should peak your interest. Let us now say that you pull the cover off the music box to see inside. Use your imagination here, and imagine for a moment that you could only see the comb and tines, but not see the cylinder and pins. If that were the case, then you would clearly see the various tines vibrating along with the notes of the song, but would have no idea what in the world was making them do what they were doing. Thus far, you’ve solved the first half of the mystery; you now know where the system gets its capacity to produce the effect, but you still have no idea where it’s getting the form (which it is obviously getting from somewhere). Would it occur to you that the form of the song can actually be derived (via physical law) from the atomic properties of brass, i.e. a brass cylinder? Of course not. Yet, the unseen brass cylinder is where the form is located in the system. And if you suddenly knew the cylinder was there, and knew exactly how the arrangement of pins on the cylinder were imparting form onto its capacity to produce the effect - would you then think to ask, perhaps 90 percent of the form is coming from the arrangement of brass pins, but surely 10 percent is coming from the brass itself? Of course not. You cannot use physical law to derive the song from the brass. You cannot derive when a bird should open its claws. You cannot derive when a fish should turn left to swim through the reeds. These effects are not derivable from the matter that makes up the systems that produce them. You can’t derive when the heater should come on in your house, and you can’t derive which amino acid to add next. With this in mind, it’s pointless and embarrassing to keep asking what’s meant by the term “physical discontinuity”. If you cannot grasp the meaning from the observations, then it won’t matter which word I use to describe it. In any case, with your vision restored you can now look inside the music box and see the arrangement of pins on the cylinder plucking the tines on the comb, making the melody play in front of you. The system has demonstrated for you the fundamental requirements of translating information. It requires a physical representation of form, and a protocol to establish specification. Without both representation and specification, you can’t translate information into a physical effect. And because the effect cannot be derived from the medium, the system must maintain the discontinuity between them (or become locked into determinism - which cannot produce the effect). These are well-defined observations in semiotic systems, and without them you can’t produce all the intricate effects that create and sustain biological life. This is what is meant by the biosemiotic observation “Life and semiosis are coextensive”. One does not exist without the other.Upright BiPed
August 23, 2014
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Upright Biped, I've been reading your argument regarding representations, protocols, and translation for years now, and I'd like to ask something that I hope you won't take as a disparagement of your abilities: Did you come up with this argument on your own, or did you learn it from another source? If the latter, can you tell me the source? The reason I ask is that it would help me to read your argument as articulated by someone else.R0bb
August 23, 2014
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R0bb:
If so, is this fact relevant to your claim that the single-pin music box has a physical discontinuity?
What difference does it make? It's glaringly obvious that there is a physical discontinuity in the system else the pin itself or the tine itself would be ceaselessly producing a sound at frequency "middle c."Mung
August 23, 2014
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