Jason Rennie interviews

| 263 Comments

Jason Rennie of The Sci Phi Show, who interviewed me awhile back, has put his interviews of Michael Shermer (anti-ID), Salvador Cordova (YEC/ID), Michael Behe (ID), and yours truly (guess) into a podiobook, which is I guess is what kids are doing these days. Rennie is evidently sympathetic to ID, but he does let his guests talk, which is nice in this case because at least the guests cover more than the standard talking points.

263 Comments

Rennie is evidently sympathetic to ID

Wow. That’s an understatement. The way he frames the whole debate is very pro-ID.

“However, it seems, at least on the Darwinist side, that there are some exceptionally vocal voices that have already made their mind up and aren’t willing to consider the possibility of teleology in nature because any evidence of teleology in nature would be fatal to their worldview. And likewise, there are people on the other side that fall under the Intelligent Design label that are committed to some sort of particular religious take on the universe and don’t generally think that the Intelligent Design proponents go far enough, and actually think that their too soft. Typically you find young earth creationists not having a lot of time or like for the ID movement because they think it’s compromised and fatally flawed as a result. It’s interesting how, in some ways, the extreme wings of both side look very much alike.”

Got it? Rennie thinks evolutionists and YECs have closed minds, and it’s the IDists who are reasonable and sensitive to evidence.

Next, he’ll be telling us that naturalistic explanations for disease are “close minded”, and people who hold those views aren’t much different from witch-doctors who think all disease is caused by spirits. But, the people in the middle, who think that only 50% of the diseases have natural explanations and 50% are caused by spirits - they’re the reasonable ones.

The other ironic thing I noticed about Rennie’s take is that he really plays up the ‘evolutionists are making inaccurate caricatures of the IDists’ idea (while ignoring their well-known religious statements*), but then he goes and makes inaccurate caricatures of evolutionists to justify his own anti-evolution stance.

* I don’t see anything wrong with looking for scientific support for one’s religious ideas. I do have a problem with it, however, when the religious beliefs have such a strong effect on a person’s mind that distorts or supercedes evidence.

You know you can call me Jason. I really don’t mind.

It was good being in the series with you, Nick. Maybe someday, somewhere else or on the SciPhi show we can be part of another series or even debate.

regards, Salvador

Sal wrote:

It was good being in the series with you, Nick. Maybe someday, somewhere else or on the SciPhi show we can be part of another series or even debate.

Why somewhere else, Sal? Why not continue the debate here, since you’ve already come here to pretend to want to continue the debate?

Your oily pretense of civility is wearing thin – you’re not fooling anyone.

Raging Bee:

Why not continue the debate here, since you’ve already come here to pretend to want to continue the debate?

Heck why not. Here are my terms:

Me and Nick only on the thread, no one else. I let him moderate it with the knowledge that I can blog on any objections to his moderation. The topic is the adequacy of the theories he is lobbying to have taught in public school. If he wants we can debate design theory too, but his theories ought to be open to criticism if mine are as well. If he wants to debate YEC too, fine, let it all stay on one thread. But his ideas should not be allowed a free pass.

If Nick chooses to decline, I respect that…

Your oily pretense of civility…

I happen to like Nick, no pretense there. He’s much more charming than (name censored) or (name censored) or .…Compared to them, his the epitome of an all around swell guy.

Sal: in another PT thread, you explicitly compared my statements to some alleged mutilation of innocent children by “Darwinists.” Given such needlessly hateful and dishonest behavior as that, you are in no position to tell others how to debate you, let alone set rules for a debate on a forum that is not your own.

Dump the mask of sycophantic civility, Sal: it was paper-thin and badly made to begin with, and now it’s completely shredded from overuse. My “Cerebus the Aardvark” mask was more convincing, and lasted longer in the real world.

bc Wrote:

The other ironic thing I noticed about Rennie’s take is that he really plays up the ‘evolutionists are making inaccurate caricatures of the IDists’ idea (while ignoring their well-known religious statements*), but then he goes and makes inaccurate caricatures of evolutionists to justify his own anti-evolution stance.

Could you be more specific ?

I actually think in many instances ID’ers and Darwinists talk past each other as much as anything else. Unfortunately the water is muddied by a bunch of religious fundamentalists like Dawkins and Meyers.

Unfortuntately there are too many people that use Darwinism as a plank in their Metaphysical Naturalism and as a result cannot even consider the possibility of teleology in the universe as this would undermine their religious commitments.

I know ID people have made religious statements from time to time, so do Darwinists, yet you don’t seem to criticse them for that. Why not ?

I actually think in many instances ID’ers and Darwinists talk past each other as much as anything else.

Excuse me, but I’ve noticed it’s the creationists who have been doing most of that – especially when they blame “Darwinism” – with no supporting evidence – for just about all of the evils of the twentieth century, including Stalinism, even though the Stalinist regime explicitly rejected evolution.

Unfortunately the water is muddied by a bunch of religious fundamentalists like Dawkins and Meyers.

Interesting that the only “religious fundamentalists” you mention are not religious. What about the Christian fundamentalists who have been pushing and financing creationism in all its guises since the nineteenth century, and who have explicitly supported ID as a means of sneaking religious indoctrination into public schools?

Besides, if Dawkins and Myers are muddying the waters, why not ignore them and address the more honest and coherent arguments of other evolutionists instead? For starters, you could try addressing the Christian plaintiffs in the Dover trial. Oh wait, you already tried that and failed. No wonder you’re concentrating on “fundamentalists” instead.

I know ID people have made religious statements from time to time, so do Darwinists, yet you don’t seem to criticse them for that. Why not?

Either you’re new here, or you’re lying. Religious statements, by both the religious and the anti-religious, have been roundly criticized here. I know this because I’ve found myself at both ends of such criticism at various times.

Besides, since you’ve already clearly shown your own prejudice, you’re in no position to criticize anyone else’s. At least we don’t ban posters for disagreeing with evolution, as some well-known creationist blogs have banned us.

Unfortuntately there are too many people that use Darwinism as a plank in their Metaphysical Naturalism and as a result cannot even consider the possibility of teleology in the universe as this would undermine their religious commitments.

Didn’t many Christian fundamentalists say the same thing about germ theory awhile back? Didn’t they also say the same thing about heliocentrism?

Syntax Error: not well-formed (invalid token) at line 1, column 57, byte 57 at /usr/local/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.16/mach/XML/Parser.pm line 187.

Since you brought it up, what does ID officially have to say, based on evidence of course, on the subject of the designer(s) intentions?

Nothing as far as a I know, that is a philosophical question.

That teleology exists is a seperate question from what that teleology is.

sal Wrote:

Me and Nick only on the thread, no one else. I let him moderate it with the knowledge that I can blog on any objections to his moderation. The topic is the adequacy of the theories he is lobbying to have taught in public school. If he wants we can debate design theory too, but his theories ought to be open to criticism if mine are as well. If he wants to debate YEC too, fine, let it all stay on one thread. But his ideas should not be allowed a free pass.

If Nick chooses to decline, I respect that…

Sal, considering that you are unwilling to engage in debate in any forum (I note, for example, that you are having your ass handed to you on a plate over on Good Math/Bad Math. If that’s your idea of debate: bland assertion, lack of support, etc., then I doubt that Nick would be well advised to enter into such a debate.

He is polite; I’m sure he’d hate to embarrass you.

That teleology exists is a seperate question from what that teleology is.

So somehow you can divine purpose in the universe with no knowledge or care about what that purpose is? Give me a break.

So somehow you can divine purpose in the universe with no knowledge or care about what that purpose is? Give me a break.

There are a number of artifacts from ancient Egypt that we have no idea of the purpose of, yet there is no question that they are not designed for some purpose. Consider Heiroglyphs before the Rosetta Stone was found. Was there any doubt that it was a language of some sort and that it was intentionally carved, even if we didn’t have any idea what was written ?

If what you say is true, then both of these should be/should have been impossible to do. So your claim fails a simple empirical reality test.

There are a number of artifacts from ancient Egypt that we have no idea of the purpose of, yet there is no question that they are not designed for some purpose. Consider Heiroglyphs before the Rosetta Stone was found. Was there any doubt that it was a language of some sort and that it was intentionally carved, even if we didn’t have any idea what was written ?

If what you say is true, then both of these should be/should have been impossible to do. So your claim fails a simple empirical reality test.

Your analogy is faulty; the artifacts in Egypt and elsewhere occur in a context where we know a great deal about the designers. Most crucially, we know that designers existed in those contexts.

This has nothing to do with the ID movement, which postulates that design can be identified without any information whatever about even a hypothetical designer. Not only that, it makes this claim on the basis of a completely unsubstantiated analogy of its own.

This is the reason that folks such as Sal avoid actual discussion of ID: because no theory of ID exists to discuss, no predictions of ID exist to be falsified, and the fundamental analogy conjecture of ID has never been demonstrated to be valid.

Your analogy is faulty; the artifacts in Egypt and elsewhere occur in a context where we know a great deal about the designers. Most crucially, we know that designers existed in those contexts.

I don’t think it is faulty. Can you name an example of artifacts that are known to exist in which we don’t know anything about the designers ?

If not, then any analogy will necessarily have this weakness, but I don’t think it makes it faulty.

Would you prefer I use ancient cave paintings as an example ? Next to nothing is known about the artists in question, yet nobody questions that they are intentional.

There are a number of artifacts from ancient Egypt that we have no idea of the purpose of, yet there is no question that they are not designed for some purpose. Consider Heiroglyphs[sic] before the Rosetta Stone was found. Was there any doubt that it was a language of some sort and that it was intentionally carved, even if we didn’t have any idea what was written ?

False analogy: Even before the Rosetta Stone, we managed to figure out that hieroglyphs had a purpose because we knew something about the creatures that carved them. We knew that people have a penchant for using glyphs to communicate, so we ascribed hieroglyphs the same function.

To illustrate, to you Stonehenge must seem like a better analogy because we still don’t know what its purpose is. But we know it had a purpose because we know something about the intentions, motivations and methods of human beings.

This is not the case with the complexity of life. Taking your analogy further, we might conclude that teleology in the Universe came from human beings.

By the way I invited Nick and Salvador back for a second edition of the book that I am working on that is more targeted. I’m also looking for anybody else that would like to contibute an interview. I can be reached at [Enable javascript to see this email address.] if anybody is interested in doing so.

This is not the case with the complexity of life. Taking your analogy further, we might conclude that teleology in the Universe came from human beings.

This presumes that humans are the only minds in the universe.

Although there are versions of the anthropic principle that contend exactly that BTW. The Final Anthropic Principle (FAP) IIRC. Although it is also called the Completely Ridicuous Anthropic Principle (CRAP).

Can you name an example of artifacts that are known to exist in which we don’t know anything about the designers ?

No, which is why the so called “positive argument for design” is crap.

If not, then any analogy will necessarily have this weakness, but I don’t think it makes it faulty.

It’s “weakness” pretty much nullifies your claim that we can infer teleology without knowing something about purpose.

It’s “weakness” pretty much nullifies your claim that we can infer teleology without knowing something about purpose.

But there are artifacts we have no idea what their purpose was. Yet we know they are artifacts. So you can infer design and hence telos without knowing what that telos was.

This is not the case with the complexity of life. Taking your analogy further, we might conclude that teleology in the Universe came from human beings.

This presumes that humans are the only minds in the universe.

It doesn’t presume any such thing.

Let me repeat. You said:

That teleology exists is a seperate question from what that teleology is.

I called bullshit, to which you said that we could conclude purpose from certain artifacts without knowing anything about the designers’ purpose. To which I responded that all of your examples include human manufacturers with whose intentions we’re quite familiar.

Were we to use your analytical methods, we could note that all artifacts that we’ve ever studied were designed by humans (at least the artifacts whose designers we know for sure). Therefore, we can conclude that since the diversity of life looks like an artifact, it was designed by human beings.

So,

This presumes that humans are the only minds in the universe.

this is a conclusion of your argument, not a presumption. Hence it’s a poor argument stemming from poor analogy.

Sci Fi Wrote:

I don’t think it is faulty. Can you name an example of artifacts that are known to exist in which we don’t know anything about the designers ?

No, because no such artifacts exist.

Let me repeat that, because it’s an important point: there are no artifacts known to exist for which we have no information about the designers.

If not, then any analogy will necessarily have this weakness, but I don’t think it makes it faulty.

It completely invalidates it.

Consider: the analogy of ID - the sole conjecture that it has, is that there exists a privileged class of entities - those that are the result of intentional design (and presumably manufacture, but that’s an entirely different (and altogether more interesting) problem) - and that we can identify an entity of this class by some property. That property is various described by the ID folks (IC, CSI, etc.), but the point is that no one in the ID movement has established that this property it actually exists as a discreet concept; that it is measurable; or that even uniquely identifies an entity as belonging to this class.

Would you prefer I use ancient cave paintings as an example ? Next to nothing is known about the artists in question, yet nobody questions that they are intentional.

No. This example is as invalid and inappropriate as the Egytian artifacts: we know a great deal about the designers.

Consider the great poster-child of ID: the bacterium flagellum. In order for us to discuss it in the fashion you’d like to see - as a designed artifact on the same order as the Egyptian hieroglyphs or the cave paintings - we’d have to establish that was (a) not the product of an imperfect replication process; (b) that a designer existed in the timeframe in which it was created.

Find evidence of a designer, or establish that we can identify a set of properties that imply we’re looking at a designed object, then you have an argument.

At the moment you have nothing except faith.

As it says somewhere in the Bible, some folks get knowledge, some tongues, some wisdom, and some faith.

Faith alone does not make a scientific argument.

sci fi Wrote:

But there are artifacts we have no idea what their purpose was. Yet we know they are artifacts. So you can infer design and hence telos without knowing what that telos was.

You keep missing the point: we have ‘human-made’ artifacts for which no purpose is known. We cannot even identify something as an ‘artifact’ without some degree of knowledge of the designer.

But there are artifacts we have no idea what their purpose was. Yet we know they are artifacts. So you can infer design and hence telos without knowing what that telos was.

That about boils it down. And no, we can’t infer telos without knowing what the telos was. In every case that we’ve ever inferred telos, we knew about the goals and motivations of the designer (human beings). So minimally at least, if we know that the artifact was made by a human, we can conclude that the artifact has purpose because human beings don’t like to waste their time on purposeless things.

The other key point, Sci Fi, is the question of manufacture. We infer designers in those cases where we know that designers existed in that timeframe; and that there is no known mechanism of ateological manufacture. That doesn’t apply to most living organisms, which is the hang-up for the ID folks.

You keep missing the point: we have ‘human-made’ artifacts for which no purpose is known. We cannot even identify something as an ‘artifact’ without some degree of knowledge of the designer.

So SETI is in principle impossible then ?

The other key point, Sci Fi, is the question of manufacture. We infer designers in those cases where we know that designers existed in that timeframe; and that there is no known mechanism of ateological manufacture. That doesn’t apply to most living organisms, which is the hang-up for the ID folks.

So SETI is impossible and something akin to the 2001 obelisk if found on the moon would likewise be impossible to infer as designed ?

Your last statement simply begs the question though and assumes that the ateleological mechanism in question is sufficent. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, but the question of whether it is or not is certianly legitimate.

Out of curiosity, where do you place the telos in the following animal artifacts? As in, whose purpose is it that’s being achieved? (obviously this question is loaded):

a) The faces on Mount Rushmore, b) Chimp artwork, c) Beaver dams, d) Birds’ nests, e) Caterpillar chrysalises, f) Mollusk shells

GuyeFaux Wrote:

In short, valid theories of physics are preferred over invalid ones; between valid theories, the one whose language more richly yet observably describe reality are preferred, and all things being equal, a shorted axiomatization is better.

You are correct, Occam’s razor must be interpreted in the context. In physical theories, the ones that have least free parameters and singularities are preferred. This clash with the standard interpretation which seems to be the number of objects or constructs.

(Interestingly, singularities contains an awful lot of information. For example, an essential singularity in math takes on on every complex value, except possibly one, infinitely often. Perhaps it is a measure of needed information we discuss.)

For example, quantum field theory has a practically infinite number of virtual and off-shell particles buzzing about, much more objects than in the classical field theory it replaced. But it removed some singularities and makes better predictions.

I haven’t seen a consistent interpretation in math or philosophy. On another thread I asked why some mathematicians prefer to add an exclusion in the definition for additive inverse of zero, to save one symbol. (+/-1, +/-2, …, but 0 instead of +/- 0. - 0 is later added as operation, of course.)

IMHO a shorter and cleaner axiomatization is instead preferable, if I compare with the physical conceptualization of parsimony.

GuyeFaux Wrote:

On the one hand, it’s arguable that the newer theory has no new research to recommend it, but on the other hand it has tons of old research with which it’s consistent.

AFAIK some theoretical physicists calls it theoretical tests, when for example string theory predicted black holes, and the same entropy for black holes as the semiclassical calculation. And black holes are indirectly observed.

Still not a decisive (or even direct) test, though.

GuyeFaux Wrote:

But it already fails, it some sense, in that it doesn’t take into account dark energy.

There are several arxiv articles on string theory and dark energy. Actually, it seems it is an unavoidable feature of some string theories, even though the concept has problems in the more realistic ones:

“In the modern approach to string theory, where membrane (D-brane) structures [11] also appear as mathematically consistent entities, the presence of a dark energy on the string theory on the brane is unavoidable, unless extreme conditions on unbroken supersymmetry and static nature of brane worlds are imposed.

However, in brane cosmology one needs moving branes, in order to obtain a cosmological space time [12], and in this case, target space time supersymmetry breaks down, due to the brane motion, resulting in non-trivial vacuum energy contributions on the brane [13].” ( http://arxiv.org/abs/hep-th/0607006 ) [Bold added.]

Btw, that article contains a review of different approaches to dark energy in string theories.

GuyeFaux Wrote:

Ok, so once again the reason the “design inference” is acceptable for the monolith is because it’s not a conclusion; it’s just a conjecture from which future research can spring. As opposed to id, who’d have us conclude “design” on the spot and be done with it.

The monolith design inference is also more detailed, which gives that future research somewhere to start. Even if you treated the ID “Somebody made this object, but I can’t tell you who or when or where or how or why” as a conjecture, it’s not a conjecture that can go anywhere.

Right, but you’d still have to explain how the intelligence arose by natural selection, which going to be I think a longer explanation than any contrived naturalistic explanation.

But natural selection is a naturalistic explanation, and we already use it to explain ourselves and our cousins, even though presumably we could contrive an explanation without it, such as the IDers’ beloved “A bunch of atoms smacked into each other in just the right way and here we are!”

I think an example of such a conclusion (i.e. a non-natural inference) is the design inference made by the characters and the audience in 2001. Even considering the repetition of the monoliths on Earth and then the moon, the design inference is really not a naturalistic conclusion.

Why not? I don’t think anyone was suggesting that the monoliths were supernatural in origin.

If you mean that it’s not testable, I’d say they unwittingly conducted a test in the movie–send a human out to the target of the radio signal and see if he gets thrown through a wormhole into a replicated Earth environment and then transformed into a Space Baby. Hypothesis confirmed. :)

Torbjörn Larsson Wrote:

I think this is a common misunderstanding. The UP prevents us from observing commutating observables at once to completely specify the state of a system. However, AFAIK we can observe any one to arbitrary precision by quantum squeezing.

Actually, it’s non-commuting observables that can’t be simultaneously specified. Commuting ones are fine–it’s the magnitude of the commutator and anti-commutator that determine the amount of uncertainty.

Uups, I missed the discussion of richer (more powerful) theories. I agree with GuyeFaux excellent description, that is another part of theory building, where science and math, but possibly not philosophy at large, seems to agree. The more predictions or theorems is spawned is obviously the better and this is how the consensus seems to be.

Anton Wrote:

Actually, it’s non-commuting observables that can’t be simultaneously specified.

Do’h! And thanks!

Anton Wrote:

Do’h!

Oh, no!!! It’s “d’oh”, isn’t it?!

D’oh! Obviously I need some strong coffee by now…

GuyeFaux — Sorry, I don’t see any mistake. A set of sentences is formally equivalent to the conjunction of all the sentences in the set.

This isn’t true; mostly because you cannot construct such a conjunction for most interesting theories: you run into a situation where you could always add something trivial to your sentence, and hence the sentence is never maximal.

I think you may have meant that an axiomatization of a theory (which, if the axiomitization is finite, can be just one sentence as you say) can have explanatory power. This is true.

I, at least, do not agree that ‘richer is better’. Indeed, I hold that a goal is to use as few constructs as possible, consistent with explaining the data.

Richer is better, at least in physics, and at least to an upper bound where your language contains only those things which you’re interested in (maybe this is what you meant by ‘use as few constructs as possible’). So a theory of large physical objects is less rich and therefore has less explanatory power than a theory of large objects plus atoms, which in turn is less rich than large objects plus atoms plus quarks. Theories of really simple structures (for instance the theory of 0 and Successor and =) are really not very interesting.

Torbjörn Larsson Wrote:
GuyeFaux Wrote:

But it already fails, it some sense, in that it doesn’t take into account dark energy.

Don’t put words in my mouth. Especially not David B. Benson’s. :)

Why not? I don’t think anyone was suggesting that the monoliths were supernatural in origin.

I’m really trying to split hairs here. I think the original design inference made right after the monolith was dug up, as suggested by that narration, was really talking about something supernatural. But this is certainly not certain, it’s just my interpretation.

But natural selection is a naturalistic explanation, and we already use it to explain ourselves and our cousins, even though presumably we could contrive an explanation without it, such as the IDers’ beloved “A bunch of atoms smacked into each other in just the right way and here we are!”

I simply meant that in terms of explanatory power, positing an intelligence in the case of extraterrestrials designing the monolith explains really very little since we know nothing about the aliens and how they came to be. So intelligent extra-terrestrials have the same explanatory power as “poof” or “Goddidit.” And therefore, a contrived naturalistic explanation is unlikely to involve some sort of evolved intelligence. (This is what I should’ve said before; I did not intend to exclude intelligent agents and evolution from natural explanations.)

Guye Wrote:

I simply meant that in terms of explanatory power, positing an intelligence in the case of extraterrestrials designing the monolith explains really very little since we know nothing about the aliens and how they came to be. So intelligent extra-terrestrials have the same explanatory power as “poof” or “Goddidit.” And therefore, a contrived naturalistic explanation is unlikely to involve some sort of evolved intelligence. (This is what I should’ve said before; I did not intend to exclude intelligent agents and evolution from natural explanations.)

But the point is that the explanation doesn’t end there - that’s why an empirically testable agent is the better (in the sense of more fruitful) explanation. Ockham isn’t the only thing that selects between explanations (and the point that the Razor selects the simplest explanation for the facts, not simply the simplest ‘sentence’ is missing from your earlier response.

Oh, and would somebody mind explaining what ‘commutating observables’ are? Thanks!

But the point is that the explanation doesn’t end there…

I’m only talking about cases where the explanation does end there, as in it’s something we conclude because it gives a satisfactory explanation. In which case the explanation involving intelligence raises as many questions as “poof” and “Goddidit.”

Of course a hypothesis which spurs later research (and at the very least is testable) is preferable.

Guye Wrote:

I simply meant that in terms of explanatory power, positing an intelligence in the case of extraterrestrials designing the monolith explains really very little since we know nothing about the aliens and how they came to be. So intelligent extra-terrestrials have the same explanatory power as “poof” or “Goddidit.” And therefore, a contrived naturalistic explanation is unlikely to involve some sort of evolved intelligence. (This is what I should’ve said before; I did not intend to exclude intelligent agents and evolution from natural explanations.)

But the point is that the explanation doesn’t end there - that’s why an empirically testable agent is the better (in the sense of more fruitful) explanation. Ockham isn’t the only thing that selects between explanations (and the point that the Razor selects the simplest explanation for the facts, not simply the simplest ‘sentence’ is missing from your earlier response.

Oh, and would somebody mind explaining what ‘commutating observables’ are? Thanks!

Guye Wrote:

I simply meant that in terms of explanatory power, positing an intelligence in the case of extraterrestrials designing the monolith explains really very little since we know nothing about the aliens and how they came to be. So intelligent extra-terrestrials have the same explanatory power as “poof” or “Goddidit.” And therefore, a contrived naturalistic explanation is unlikely to involve some sort of evolved intelligence. (This is what I should’ve said before; I did not intend to exclude intelligent agents and evolution from natural explanations.)

But the point is that the explanation doesn’t end there - that’s why an empirically testable agent is the better (in the sense of more fruitful) explanation. Ockham isn’t the only thing that selects between explanations (and the point that the Razor selects the simplest explanation for the facts, not simply the simplest ‘sentence’ is missing from your earlier response.

Oh, and would somebody mind explaining what ‘commutating observables’ are? Thanks!

Guye Wrote:

I simply meant that in terms of explanatory power, positing an intelligence in the case of extraterrestrials designing the monolith explains really very little since we know nothing about the aliens and how they came to be. So intelligent extra-terrestrials have the same explanatory power as “poof” or “Goddidit.” And therefore, a contrived naturalistic explanation is unlikely to involve some sort of evolved intelligence. (This is what I should’ve said before; I did not intend to exclude intelligent agents and evolution from natural explanations.)

But the point is that the explanation doesn’t end there - that’s why an empirically testable agent is the better (in the sense of more fruitful) explanation. Ockham isn’t the only thing that selects between explanations (and the point that the Razor selects the simplest explanation for the facts, not simply the simplest ‘sentence’ is missing from your earlier response.

Oh, and would somebody mind explaining what ‘commutating observables’ are? Thanks!

Syntax Error: mismatched tag at line 1, column 445, byte 445 at /usr/local/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.16/mach/XML/Parser.pm line 187.

Scarlet Seraph, FOFOCD Wrote:

Oh, and would somebody mind explaining what ‘commutating observables’ are? Thanks!

It’s been a long time since I took quantum, but: each observable property of a system is represented by an operator which acts on the system’s wavefunction. For instance, in the position space basis, the x-position operator simply multiplies the wavefunction by x, while the x-momentum operator differentiates the wavefunction by x and multiplies it by a constant. To find the expectation value for a given observable, you take the inner product of the wavefunction with its own transform by that operator–e.g. the expected position for a particle with wavefunction f(x) would be calculated by (f(x)|x*f(x)).

Commuting pairs {A,B} of observables are those whose operators commute–that is, applying them both to any given wavefunction produces the same transform regardless of which one you apply first: A(B(f))=B(A(f)). If they don’t commute, the magnitude of the commutator–the difference AB-BA–tells you the amount of uncertainty you’re subject to if you try to measure both observables at once.

You can see from intro calculus that the position and momentum operators don’t commute: d/dx(x*f(x)) != x*d/dx(f(x)) Hence, the classic uncertainty principle.

GuyeFaux — I suspect that we are in substantial agreement and that this exchange may hold little interest for other than logicians.

Nonetheless, I need to point out that there is nothing wrong with conjunctions of any cardinality. Also, the definition of ‘theory’ in formal logic is not the same as ‘theory’ as used in science, for example, the Theory of Biological Evolution.

Do note that I stated that we want sentences which explain the data. So we do want parsimonious sentences. But no more parsimonious than needed to explain the data.

I know of several attempts to formally define ‘parsimony’ for a sentence. None are completely satisfactory. It appears this remains a subjective judgment.

Torbjeorn — Thank you for correcting my misconception regarding some of the string sentences. Mine, not GuyeFaux’s. :-)

For everybody — I suppose most of use agree with Karl Popper’s falsifiability criterion for a scientific sentence. Thus neither Freud’s ‘theory of the mind’ nor ‘intelligent design’ qualify as a scientific sentence…

Oops! us, not ‘use’.

Apologies.

Also, the definition of ‘theory’ in formal logic is not the same as ‘theory’ as used in science, for example, the Theory of Biological Evolution.

Absolutely. I think that was not clear from what I wrote.

I also second your motion to drop it, as I don’t see any more substantial disagreements.

GuyeFaux Wrote:

Don’t put words in my mouth. Especially not David B. Benson’s. :)

Oops! But it could have been worse, look what I made Anton out to say. :-)

Scarlet Seraph Wrote:

would somebody mind explaining what ‘commutating observables’ are?

Anton describes the use in quantum mechanics. Which operators commute or not, and thus gives different forms of the uncertainty principle, depends on their relation. It is related to a duality in the description of them, for example between position and momentum (or velocity).

Another useful uncertainty principle is between energy (or frequency) and time. (Time is actually special, but one can do this.) Measuring energy for a short duration gives uncertainty in energy, measuring for a long duration obviously gives uncertainty in time.

Btw, the use of operators and study of commutating entities starts already in classical mechanics. IIRC one can identify constants of motion (besides energy), which helps with the description of the specific system and its given constraints. It has been a long time for me too…

Btw, this connection between quantum and classical mechanics can be stated as:

In QM one is in uncertainty relations interested in quantities that aren’t conserved (briefly), while in CM one is interested in quantities that are.

hey u stole my name

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Nick Matzke published on January 16, 2007 7:50 PM.

Flock Party: Raleigh was the previous entry in this blog.

The silliest thing I read last week is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Categories

Archives

Author Archives

Powered by Movable Type 4.381

Site Meter