Science versus ID: Message in the sky

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A while ago I discussed the relevance of motive in determining whether or not something may have been designed. A good example of how this can be turned into a scientific concept is given in a paper submitted to Arxiv called “Message in the Sky”:

“It’s a crazy assumption that there’s a supreme being that wants to send us a message,” said Steve Hsu, an associate professor at the University of Oregon, admitting that believing in a message involves a leap of faith. “But, if you could create a universe in your laboratory, wouldn’t you want to leave a message inside?”

(Seed Magazine article)

Remarkably (or perhaps not) this ‘tongue in cheek’ paper has attracted Dembski’s attention. Remember that Dembski is still struggling with how an Intelligent Designer could inject information into our universe with zero energy:

Dembski Wrote:

What’s more, the energy in quantum events is proportional to frequency or inversely proportional to wavelength. And since there is no upper limit to the wavelength of, for instance, electromagnetic radiation, there is no lower limit to the energy required to impart information. In the limit, a designer could therefore impart information into the universe without inputting any energy at all. Whether the designer works through quantum mechanical effects is not ultimately the issue here. Certainly quantum mechanics is much more hospitable to an information processing view of the universe than the older mechanical models. All that’s needed, however, is a universe whose constitution and dynamics are not reducible to deterministic natural laws. Such a universe will produce random events and thus have the possibility of producing events that exhibit specified complexity (i.e., events that stand out against the backdrop of randomness).

For those who are more familiar with information theory, it is clear that an infinite wavelength signal would have zero bandwidth. In other words, it will take infinite amount of time to even send one bit of information, showing once again that when philosophers venture into unfamiliar areas they may end up making some interesting mistakes.

Okay, back to the paper. In an almost tongue in cheek manner, the authors seem to mimic ID’s attempt to deny a supernatural designer. And what better way than refer to science fiction:

How would they send us a message? That the universe was started by superior Beings is not only the province of religious thoughts from the earliest days of the human race, but has also been a staple of science fiction. In one of our favorite scenarios, our universe is a school-assigned science experiment [1, 2] carried out by a high school student in a meta-universe. Perhaps he or she or it even started an assortment of universes like ant farms and stashed them away somewhere in the basement, out of his or her or its parent’s way. Perhaps by now he has lost interest and forgotten about the universes, leaving some to expand, others to collapse, in complete futility and silence. But, perhaps not without leaving a message for the occupants…

So what motivates the authors to explore this concept? Well:

If one of the present authors had gotten the universe going and if he had wanted to announce this fact, he would clearly want all the advanced civilizations, not just in our galaxy, but in the entire universe, to know.

Since ID insists that it cannot address motives, it thus remains scientifically vacuous. The authors also consider what the message would be and conclude,

The next question is what might the message be. We thought of various possibilities and decided that the best choice would be the following. We now know, and we suppose that any civilization advanced enough to detect Cl in the comic microwave background would also know, that three of the four fundamental interactions are governed by gauge theories, based on the Lie algebras (formula omitted) Thus, we suggest that the coded message would simply be an announcement along the line “Hey guys, the universe is governed by gauge theories, and the relevant algebras are such and such.”

As to other possible messages, the authors mention:

[5] For example, another suggestion might be the sequence of prime numbers, but this strikes us as not informative enough. (One may even conceive of civilizations for which the prime numbers may not hold as much fascination as for our own.)

Oh, the irony must have been totally lost on some…

But in the message Dembski sent us, another interesting acknowledgement is being made, namely:

All that’s needed, however, is a universe whose constitution and dynamics are not reducible to deterministic natural laws. Such a universe will produce random events and thus have the possibility of producing events that exhibit specified complexity (i.e., events that stand out against the backdrop of randomness).

Random events and the possibility of producing events that exhibit specified complexity… Wow, quite an admission and quite a problem for those who thus believe that the complement of regularity requires an intelligent designer to produce specified complexity.

PS: The authors are not the first one to think of the message opportunity:

You might take this all as a joke,” he said, “but perhaps it is not entirely absurd. It may be the explanation for why the world we live in is so weird. On the evidence, our universe was created not by a divine being, but by a physicist hacker.”

Linde’s theory gives scientific muscle to the notion of a universe created by an intelligent being. It might be congenial to Gnostics, who believe that the material world was fashioned not by a benevolent supreme being but by an evil demiurge. More orthodox believers, on the other hand, will seek refuge in the question, “But who created the physicist hacker?” Let’s hope it’s not hackers all the way up.

A followup paper title, “The real message in the sky”, exends the findings of Hsu et al.:

A recent paper by Hsu & Zee (physics/0510102) suggests that if a Creator wanted to leave a message for us, and she wanted it to be decipherable to all sentient beings, then she would place it on the most cosmic of all billboards, the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) sky. Here we point out that the spherical harmonic coefficients of the observed CMB anisotropies (or their squared amplitudes at each multipole) depend on the location of the observer, in both space and time. The amount of observer-independent information available in the CMB is a small fraction of the total that any observer can measure. Hence a lengthy message on the CMB sky is fundamentally no less observer-specific than a communication hidden in this morning’s tea-leaves. Nevertheless, the CMB sky does encode a wealth of information about the structure of the cosmos and possibly about the nature of physics at the highest energy levels. The Universe has left us a message all on its own.

As ID relevant research go, these papers should be an inspiration to any aspiring IDer.

159 Comments

Mssage -> Message

No, “Massage”.

No ‘comming of the lord’ jokes, please.

But, if you could create a universe in your laboratory, wouldn’t you want to leave a message inside?

When I was a kid, I had an ant farm. It was a fascinating little world, but I never felt the need to try to communicate with the ants.

Doesn’t it seem like a being smart and powerful enough to create an entire universe would probably have very precious little to talk to us about. Even today, much less 3000 years ago.

God: “I dabbled with an entirely new method of superstring formation in a distant galaxy today, what did you do?”

Man: “I disemboweled a goat, and splashed its blood on a fire to please you. Then I foretold the future by looking at its intestines.”

God: “What?”

Man: “And then we went to the afternoon crucifixions. Good double matinee today, heathens and masturbators.” God: “Right. Well, I’ve got to go create some new worlds now…”

Man: “OK, we’ll just be here circumcising ourselves till you get back!”

So the idea is that we look for signals from a creator, under the assumption that we can decode the mind of said creator, who we don’t know is there, and then look for said information that requires advanced knowledge for us to even find it, under the assumption that the supreme being, who wants to leave the message, also wants to hide it.

I say go with the Hitchhikers Gude to the Galaxy Method. *I* want giant flaming letters reading “We Apologize for the Inconvenience.”

Re “In the limit, a designer could therefore impart information into the universe without inputting any energy at all.”

Um. He does realize that imparting even a bit of information would involve changing the location or state of at least a subatomic particle? Last time I checked, moving even one electron takes nonzero energy.

Henry

From the “Message in the Sky” paper:

“Thus, we suggest that the coded message would simply be an announcement along the line ‘Hey guys, the universe is governed by gauge theories, and the relevant algebras are such and such.’”

If the CMB encodes “Hey guys” I will assume that Douglas Adams really is the Creator of the Universe.

stevaroni Wrote:

When I was a kid, I had an ant farm. It was a fascinating little world, but I never felt the need to try to communicate with the ants.

Really? I, on the other hand, have never had an ant farm, but I have known several fish tanks and other glass-encased pets and I have always tried to communicate - mostly tying to get them to acknowledge my presence. I.e. I tapped the glass in an effort to make them look at me. That counts as communication, though. Mind you, I would *not* do that in a science project, since that would be tampering with it.

Just be happy that there is a chance that out universe does not exist because HEX needed somewhere to output the thaumatic energy of thaum fission. Wizards prodding our universe looking for chelonium and for target practice is something my imagination would rather not contemplate outside of Discworld.

Henry Wrote:

Um. He does realize that imparting even a bit of information would involve changing the location or state of at least a subatomic particle? Last time I checked, moving even one electron takes nonzero energy.

Oh, he realises that all right. The whole point is that he was trying to explain how Go… the Intelligent Designer had inserted the mutations into the genome of the first living form (which is more than electron big), to direct is evolution. The fact that he would’ve taken an infinite time is the bit that D*mbski overlooked.

Hope that helps,

Grey Wolf

D_mbski wrote; In the limit, a designer could therefore impart information into the universe without inputting any energy at all.

WD, why do you still insist on seeking the fifth leg to the cat? Do not complicate your life when you already know (and have asserted so) that everything came to be because, POOF, GODDIT

Stevaroni, I am rolling on the floor after reading your post. That is hilarious.

Dembski Wrote:

All that’s needed, however, is a universe whose constitution and dynamics are not reducible to deterministic natural laws. Such a universe will produce random events and thus have the possibility of producing events that exhibit specified complexity (i.e., events that stand out against the backdrop of randomness).

Random events and the possibility of producing events that exhibit specified complexity… Wow, quite an admission and quite a problem for those who thus believe that the complement of regularity requires an intelligent designer to produce specified complexity.

Dembski seems to be confusing the fact that so-called “specified complexity” stands out against the backdrop of randomness, with the ability of such a universe to produce this “specified complexity”. It’s a non-sequitur, and another in a long list of bad thinking.

It seems that he’s trying to suggest, too, that any stand-out in such a universe is due to “specified design”. Naturally this would cast a net wide enough to catch, well, just about anything that we see. But it is likely that Dembski is just following his creationist impulses here, since the real point is that the Word made everything (the gospel of John, with which Dembski equates ID), and “without him not anything was made that was made.” The Privileged Planet also gave the game away, when it essentially took all of the features of our world to have been specifically made to support humans and their investigations.

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

So the idea is that we look for signals from a creator, under the assumption that we can decode the mind of said creator, who we don’t know is there, and then look for said information that requires advanced knowledge for us to even find it, under the assumption that the supreme being, who wants to leave the message, also wants to hide it.

Yup. And all of this without even trying to discuss or speculate on the nature of this creat – oops, I mean designer. ‘Cause that would be religion, see, and ID is NOT ABOUT RELIGION, nosireebob, you better get that straight…

Dembski seems to be confusing the fact that…

Look, this is getting boring. Just wake us up when Dembski DOESN’T confuse something with something else…

Since the right key converts any message into any other message, the secret of universe is indeed encoded in the digits of pi. Unfortunately, a different key turns pi into an endless series of recipes for hush puppies, and another makes it into a Latvian translation of Fanny Hill.

42

Look, this is getting boring. Just wake us up when Dembski DOESN’T confuse something with something else…

Do you really want to sleep that long?

The odd thing about Dembski is that he seems to want to come up with a new model (ok, this requires believing his statements, which can only be done provisionally) by the very processes that he purports to find inadequate, random searching.

He’s just going to throw out ideas until he stumps enough people. The ideas that others can’t shoot down, he will baptize as “truth”. Unfortunately for him, such random searches are almost never effective, especially not against those who design their searches according to the evidence.

It amazes me that someone can be wrong so many times, yet remains a generator of nearly as poor ideas as the previous ones.

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

I have fixed the title, and in an irrational fit of type-editing I put punctuation in Pim’s post, since he was obviously in a hurry…

(Commas, Pim, commas! And the occasional colon!)

Re “Stevaroni, I am rolling on the floor after reading your post. That is hilarious.”

The goat disagrees. ;)

Comment #104098

Posted by Nick (Matzke) on June 6, 2006 01:49 PM (e) | kill

I have fixed the title, and in an irrational fit of type-editing I put punctuation in Pim’s post, since he was obviously in a hurry…

(Commas, Pim, commas! And the occasional colon!)

Good. I don’t like to read PvM posts. Something about the language makes them a bit hard to read. Not as bad as K.E.’s, though.

One thing that is striking about the idea of Hsu, et al, with regard to ID/creationism, is that by no means would they be looking for “specified complexity” as such. They’d be looking for specificity, all right, but it is the kind of specificity that, amazingly enough, is specified in advance by researchers, not “identified” by probability measures afterward.

This is the thing: we know that, under some (many, actually)circumstances, the specification of the fundamental interactions governed by gauge theories, or sequences of prime numbers, would not appear in the data under “natural conditions”. Hence we might at least suspect that certain kinds of data appearing where we would not expect it to be, at least could be the result of intelligence. True, it might be due to something else, but certain data that could be specified by ourselves as well as by the “creator of the universe”, and which would not be expected otherwise, might give us reason to hypothesize such an unknown intelligence.

By contrast, finding the information in complex DNA sequences is not going to tell us much. DNA strands are unavoidably contain information, and we cannot specify through principles what kind of information they will contain. Evolution, design, or sheer randomness might be responsible for the information contained in DNA. Without a specific designer, whose specifications become our specifications for identifying that designer, it is very unlikely that we could pin down the existence of this designer.

Perhaps if DNA contained information about gauge theory or prime number sequences, we might again suspect that some kind of intelligence was responsible–whether or not we could be sure. These sorts of scenarios seem to be about the only plausible way of giving evidence for an unknown designer through DNA.

So this particular analogy may tell us something, which is that ID has no characteristics to indicate a designer of “natural” DNA. Whether or not Hsu, et al, have an idea that is at all worthwhile on its own, at least it shows that anyone looking for specified information to indicate an unknown designer is not going to follow the ID scenario. The EF is ignored in even mildly serious hypothetical situations, while the usual method of matching up information that can be specified by intelligences independently is still the preferred method of determining intelligence in a situation involving the unknown.

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

The goat disagrees.

The goats always disagree. The biblical era… not such a good time for the goats.

Ahhh, but information is carried on a non-infinite wavelength carrier wave.

Have you not seen the elegant sine wave signature of His Noodly Appendage!!!

This is arrant idiocy. The only reason a creator would set up the message in advance (ie, putting it in the CMB), rather than simply giving it directly to his little subjects, is that he/she/it either could not or would not interfere with the universe after its creation. In which case, the universe could be preset to evolve life, but this would be indistinguishable from a sheerly deterministic universe without massive amounts of essentially unknowable information. And the process that resulted in life on Earth would still be occurring via evolution from a common ancestor. This would also negate any concept of free will.

Sorry - what I was referring to as “arrant idiocy” was Dembski’s assertion that this idea had anything to do with ID in its current incarnation.

The biblical era… not such a good time for the goats.

Fortunately, things are much better Today.

Delta Pi Gamma (Scientia et Fermentum)

But it is likely that Dembski is just following his creationist impulses here, since the real point is that the Word made everything (the gospel of John, with which Dembski equates ID), and “without him not anything was made that was made.” The Privileged Planet also gave the game away, when it essentially took all of the features of our world to have been specifically made to support humans and their investigations.

That’s why IDers have so much trouble telling us simply how to tell what is designed from what isn’t. Everything, you see, is designed. (shrug)

The real question is how a paper tangentially critiquing SETI ends up being seen as supportive by D*mbski, when SETI has been mentioned as demonstrating design methods.

D*mbski works in mysterious ways.

The biblical era… not such a good time for the goats.

Fortunately, things are much better Today.

In my kitchen everything is pretty much a burnt offering anyway.

(That might be, by the way, the most incredibly obscure link I’ve seen this year)

If the message is there, it will probably read as the cosmic equivalent of “Made in China”

The biblical era… not such a good time for the goats.

It occurred to me that it is possible that the history of planetary goat abuse is really a sign of something deeper, more fundamental. Several lines of evidence suggest that goats may have been aligned with the designers and may not have been the good guys (1, 2, 3). Early man realized this and began his terror campaign against goats in retribution for an alliance with these evil designers. The first reference is particularly telling in this regard. The space alien designers and their goat minion are roasted by a coalition of vertebrates. An avian leader tosses the match while the ichthyological wheel man speeds the coalition away to safety.

Instead of looking at the cosmic microwave background for evidence of designers, I think we should be watching the goats.

Delta Pi Gamma (Scientia et Fermentum)

Hmm. Could this relate to the choice for menu for one of the denizens of Jurassic Park?

Henry

Donald M Wrote:

Well, since you didn’t bother to reference from where you drew the quote, like Dembski, I assumed it came from NFL, page335. Telling me that *I* should have googled the quote or something is about as disingenous as it gets, Pim. YOU should have made clear from where you drew the quote. But given the way you consistently misrepresent ID in general and Dembski in particular, I’m not surprised that you wouldn’t take the time to reference your quote in the OP.

Seems Donald can only blame others for his inabilities to support his arguments. He blindly copied Dembski’s fallacious assertions. So much for critical thinking.

Since Donald accuses me of consistently misrepresenting ID in general and Dembski in particular I may conclude that he has this time some supporting evidence or is there no limit to Donald’s accusations?

Donald M Wrote:

You didn’t provide the extensive quote from NFL. I suspect you knew full well that Dembski had, in fact, expanded on this paper in NFL, yet chose to use the paper instead. IN other words, Pim, you deliberately chose to misrepresent the Dembski’s argument. That is the very thing you accuse IDPs of doing all the time…quotemining.

You accused me of misquoting and leaving out words. Seems that your original accusation was erroneous so now you claim that I deliberately chose to misrepresent Dembski’s argument, again lacking any logical or rational foundation for your claims. In addition, I fail to see how I misrepresented Dembksi’s statement.

Care to explain

Your deliberate subterfuge has been exposed.

You are funny Donald, you blindly copied Dembski’s accusations but unlike Dembski you seem to be unable to at least make an effort to apologize. I can understand, being ‘betrayed’ by your ‘master’ may be quite a shock and the phenomenon of cognitive dissonance may cause you to seek blame externally. Of course, eventually you will have to face up to the simple fact that ID and claims by its proponents are scientifically vacuous, and in this case totally fallacious.

So what did Dembski ‘really’ mean when he made the following statement

In the limit, a designer could therefore impart information into the universe without inputting any energy at all

Is he correct or is he merely hiding now behind the backs of real scientists? I’d really like to hear from ID disciples as to how to explain away Dembski’s faux pas. Perhaps it’s best to just accept that Dembski has no formal training in the area of physics?

Perhaps it’s best to just accept that Dembski has no formal training in the area of physics?

perhaps it’s best to accept that Donald isn’t worth the time it takes to write a response?

Really, Pim, it doesn’t matter a whit what you say to him; he’ll be back in a couple of weeks, with the exact same IDiotic arguments as always.

There’s no arguing with a rock.

The anger in Don’s post suggests to me that he’s steamed about Dembski making him look like an ass. Maybe he’ll be a little less credulous in the future.

Really, Pim, it doesn’t matter a whit what you say to him; he’ll be back in a couple of weeks, with the exact same IDiotic arguments as always.

At least Donald et al can serve as a fair warning what happens when one abandons logic, and critical thinking.

And attempting to do something obviously does not rest on an assumption that it can be done,

Unfortunately, we can use principles of logical analysis to understand our world only if the universe can be understood through logical analysis.

We can try other things without necessarily thinking they will work because we believe that it might work, and that we might be able to derive benefit from the trying if it works, or even whether it works or not. There are certain principles, however, which if they are not true no profit can be derived, ever, or benefit drawn.

If you disagree, then why are you making arguments? The arguments are useless if we do not presume that language can encode meaning.

You are funny Donald, you blindly copied Dembski’s accusations but unlike Dembski you seem to be unable to at least make an effort to apologize.

Most fundies would rather die than admit they are wrong. About anything.

After all, if a fundie is wrong about anything, then the entire Bible becomes worthless. Right, Donald?

(snicker) (giggle)

But rules are imposed by us, in our attempt to describe phenomena; the universe simply is what it is, and it may or may not be fully describable in terms of following a set of rules.

Except that isn’t possible: if that were the case, reality would not be able to operate.

Let’s say I make a measurement. How much uncertainty is inherent in my measurement? If there isn’t a precise answer to that question, then how much uncertainty about the uncertainty is there? If there isn’t a precise answer to *that* question, then how much uncertainty about the uncertainty uncertainty is there?

If there’s never any point at which this infinite recursion ends, then nothing can be said about the content of the measurement – it has no properties other than being something about which I know nothing.

We can impose rules only by following the universe’s rules. Without them, how can *anything* be accomplished?

It ahs been a sunny and long weekend. I see that Dembski has commented on the discussion anyway.

“And nowhere in my quote do I say that zero-energy waves impart information — I say that they do in the limit.”

Either way we construe this limit - max amplitude going to zero, or wavelength going to infinity (or equivalently signal bandwith going to zero) - the result will trivially be that no energy and no information is imparted. Even allowing for QFT zero energy, entropy going to infinity means information goes to zero.

Not only has Dembski multiply showed his incompetence in modelling real physics, biology, or web searches, he is naively incompetent in checking his ideas against basic knowledge. One can only hope he is somewhat competent in the mathematics he was educated in - perhaps he can find a suitable job there, if his current employer finds out his incompetences.

Meanwhile a discussion about simulating universes broke out. “Therefore, we are either living in our universe or a simulation of our universe. How do we know which we are living in?”

Some answers deal with the nature of the universe - is it a computable structure, for example like Wolfram’s cellular automata? One prominent answer from theoretical physiscists, displayed here, is that it isn’t due to QM stochastic nature or its prohibition of local hidden variable descriptions. But the jury is still out.

Other answers deal with the possibility of describing nature with formal and/or computable theories. While chaos shows exponential divergencies that fundamentally restricts the mapping from description to nature, there seems to be no restriction to come as close as desired.

But the question was really if we live in a simulation, not if the simulation was close to fundamental nature. Even in the absence of further information that answer is formally and easily answered to as similar ideas of solipsism, zombies, and last thursdayism - all alternatives to observed reality are more complicated. (And some requires treating ‘self’ different from the rest.) Ockham shaves these hairy questions easily.

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This page contains a single entry by PvM published on June 6, 2006 10:42 AM.

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