Thursday, August 03, 2006

Intelligent Design and the Anthropic Principle

Ms. Anthropic asked me a very good question that probably deserves more than a "nutshell" explanation, but here goes:

So tell me, in a nutshell, what the debate is exactly, and where intelligent design (an idea I find problematic) plays into it?

There really is no debate to it, but creationists use scientific evidence that we might not be here by accident to claim that this means that god, or some un-named intelligent designer, is behind our existence in this universe.

This is an unwarrented assumption without more direct proof, since any good physical need for us to be here will accomplish the same thing, so the latter *should-be* the default scientific position, and this should be the end of the story.

Unfortunately for science, there is an extremely strong tendency among non-creationists to deny the significance of this evidence, rather than to look for some good physical reason for why our presence in this universe might be important enough to the physical process to justify that the forces of the universe would be "set-up" to bring us into existence.

There is an almost unbelievable array of these "ecobalanced" anthropic coincidences that are necessary to our existence, ranging from our local ecosystem, all the way up to the near-perfectly balanced structure of the universe itself, which cannot be be explained by any other means than the anthropic principle.

There are three ways to interpret the evidence:

1) God or some intelliget designer is behind the "fine-tuning". Creationists believe that there is purpose in nature.

2) The balanced pencils and balls on hilltops is purely accidental random chance occurrence. Anti-centrists believe that there is no "higher" purpose in nature.

3) Humans are necessary to the physics of the universe, so there is purpose in nature in this context, as well.

Number three is the reason that the anthropic principle was first introduced by Brandon Carter, but virtually nobody will recognize the hardest evidence for anthropic specialness, even when they are confronted with valid supporting science, and even though this means that there should be an intricate link between Darwin's theory and this feature of our universe, which carries ramifacations that go right to the highest level of science.

The creation/evolution debate, (including all of the common aspects of ideological conflict between the "right" and the "left"), is the main problem here, one side says "black", so the other side *automatically* says "white" because they buy the hype that "black" means that godidit. They don't even think to look for why "black" might be correct for different reasons than creationists push on them, due only to their knee-jerk "auto-reaction*, and they only think of "creationism" when they see it.

There is also a misplaced impression among most physicists that the idea that we are somehow significant to the physics of the universe is just geocentrically arrogant and so they dismiss the idea out of hand, without attempting to complete the principle, even though Brandon Carter had carefully explained needed to be done.

It doesn't take much looking to find out that the special physics doesn't only apply to the Earth, rather, it fits the profile of every spiral galaxy that evolved at approximantely the same time and location as ours did, so human arrogance is not even the huge factor that they wrongly presume it to be... IF they weren't pre-conditioned against this science from the get-go.

I commonly run into willful ignorance, dishonesty, and "silent denial" from people that I never would have expected it from, and I can prove that I just as commonly expose this nasty little truth, not that it matters to them.


Ms. Anthropic said...

I get my very own post? I'm honored!

Thanks for that very interesting explanation.

island said...

haha... this is typically a lonely place, so I wouldn't exactly call it your 15 minutes... ;)

I hope that my explanation was okay, and given the potential significance, I feel very strongly that extremely important science is getting killed by pre-conceived prejudices that no form of reason or fact can generally surmount.

A club upside the head is generally frowned-on, so I'm at a dead end and have been since I first pointed to evidence for anthropic preference.

Ms. Anthropic said...

I just reread this after a good night's sleep and it is such an interestibng argument. The social scientist in me thinks it is almost applying a sociological functionalist model to hard science. That is, that every aspect serves the greater good of the society/universe. In sociology, this is of course problematic for several reasons: first, what get's considered the "greater good" is wildly subjective and ends up being decided by those in power or in positions of priveledge; second, it makes very bad things in society, like poverty, be easily dismissed because, according to funtionalists, poverty is necessary for the functioning of society. Operating under functionalism makes action and questioning the valdity of those in power very difficult, and it has fallen out of favor in a big way.

Anyway, this is a bit of a digression from what you've written, but I guess related in some way. I suppose you cannot really compare human-created societal institutions to the innerworkings of the universe, but it seemed like a worthwhile mental exercise this morning.

But I still think that one could question the implied subjectivity of "specialness" and "serving the good of the universe" in your argument.


Neil' said...

Well... Maybe you have been able to explicate your option #3 in a truly satisfactory way, but I haven't been able to get a good summary of that. I hope you can appreciate that I don’t have time to search out all of your relevant writings on this – can you provide a nifty summary of your point, not just a generalization but telling us why the FSC should be about 1/137, G should have the value it has, etc., or even why relativity, why QM, why anything at all, in a way that doesn’t beg the question regarding logically or even physically possible worlds, lifeless or not as the case may be?

Given what I’ve seen so far: Really, why would there be a "physical need for us to be here."? Your stating that any good example of such would be cause not to consider other options is effectively a tautology – that’s what a “good” reason means. Really, why would our existence be tied to the universe unless either a.) There is some weird quantum-mystical type participant observer/creator hash going on, or b.) Something/one (which could cover a wide range of character, not just classic theological concepts) is behind it (in an apparently deistic way in any case.) Sure, things tend to find stability, but that doesn’t tell me why the universe had to have the constant of G, the fine-structure constant, etc. Universes with other constants, icky or messy or whatever as you may imagine are easily *logically possible.* (BTW many barren worlds would just not be able to develop life, not to be confused with being horribly materially unstable as is the case for electron energy levels when D > 4 + 1.) Many of those constants are independent of those controlling expansion, etc. Dark energy etc. is supposed to be ultimately blowing the universe apart anyway – that doesn’t look very balanced or elegant to me.

Like it or not, you can’t even explicate or defend science without philosophizing. Philosophy stands behind everything we do (either fairly acknowledged, or pretended not to be,) and that means that we ask broadly about the implications of our tools and our findings. It does not follow that ideas developed to deal with finding patterns like the inverse-square law, and how to describe fields etc., would be just as suited for explaining why they are that way to begin with or why anything exists at all. I’m aware of the irony, since I used physical reasoning to explain why the inverse-square law is preferred – but that doesn’t tell us why the FSC, why quantum reality, why there is even anything at all. Also, it was based on assuming relativity, conservation of energy, etc. A classical type world would have no problem. And, don’t forget the hypocrisy of “physicists” who shamelessly indulge in questionable philosophical frameworks like modal realism, even as they or the like-minded criticize those who consider the AP to be an expression of purpose in some sense.

Another point: some forms of ID challenge the idea that atoms just bouncing around could properly form DNA, RNA, the correct proteins, etc. I wouldn’t know, but once again, it is a perfectly game question to ask. Some statisticians question whether we should really get adequate biological results from all that. Whether or not that is so is a question to be examined, not assumed, since it is again a LPW where such a starting point wouldn’t be good enough. If not, what happened to it? I wouldn’t know, but that isn’t the point. We don’t always get the answers we want, and that (like with collapse of the wave function) is the breaks. (BTW, type “quantum measurement paradox” into Google, and a thread I started on sci.physics.research in 2000 comes up first.)

PS – I saw some of Motl’s pissery, including on Woit – what a “wanker” – he reminds me of blowhards like Rush. Also, is he a global warming skeptic? He dissed on Kyoto with asperity. If so, he is dangerous to our global security.

island said...

Well... Maybe you have been able to explicate your option #3 in a truly satisfactory way, but I haven't been able to get a good summary of that.

Hi Neil,

Not that I can't, but I don't have to prove anything more than what is already known or is obviously correct for number three to merrit serious consideration.

For example, Lawrence Krauss' point concerning the fact that direct observational evidence indicates that we are at the center of the universe serves as strong enough supporting evidence to merrit real interest... were he not pre-disposed toward disbelief, openly expressing his desire to explain-away this evidence, rather than to recognize it, and look for some good reason why it might be true. Had he said that we need to investigate both, then I'd have no problem, but that is not the expressed intent, and that is NOT honest science!!!

I don't even need that to defend the existing incomplete version of the principle for number three to be preferred over the addition of unobserved and unproven extra entities, until and unless they are proven to be necessary to the ToE... or maybe even a proven theory of quantum gravity.

Until that happens, the observed universe owns this arguement.

I'll try to respond later to the rest of your post, but you should goto my website www.anthropic-principle.ORG

There is a page on Dirac's Large Numbers Hypothesis where I took a shot at 1/137 in so many words.

This semi-lame popularization is essentially my understanding too, although they don't make the connection to "energy efficiency":

The more complex the structure the more effective is the energy dissemination. Populations are better in this respect than single individuals; ecosystems even more so, and most effective of all -- so far -- are human high-tech societies.

Thus, goes the argument, the second law of thermodynamics is not contrary to the existence of life; rather, it is the cause of life. That law drives evolution to higher levels of complexity and to more sophisticated societies and technologies for the sole purpose of disseminating energy gradients.

Also, scroll down to Scott Sampson, here:

island said...

Ms. Anthropic said:
But I still think that one could question the implied subjectivity of "specialness" and "serving the good of the universe" in your argument.

The only thing that I might say about this is that the forces aren't "honed-in" to produce carbon-based life because it isn't specially required.

Special, like specialist.

island said...

Okay Neil, now you're asking for it, because I don't think that the "left" knows everything about global warming that their reactionary alarmists selves thinks that they do.

For example, they were very quick to scream about how the many hurricanes of last year hurricanes were all caused by global warming but just try to question the reverse of this logic by noting that we haven't had squat this year.

Bullshit!... global warming offsets the long-term tendency toward glaciation that is predicted by empirically derived Milankovitch models. Find me one liberal that even recognizes this fact.

These are diametrically opposing runaway tendencies that, and both are cumulative... just like every other anthropic coincidence, so don't be so arrogant as to *presume* that we can ever possibly truly violate the ecobalance that we contributing members... belong to.

Of course, this is different than the denial that global warming exists that you typically get from the right, but my point is... these extremists serve counterbalance the runaway tendency toward stagnation and certain death that is promoted by idiot extremists of the green movement who believe that we can return the Earth to it's formerly pristine state.

Do it and you will die!

Ms. Anthropic said...

I think there are plenty of scientists who are not politically motivated who believe that global warming is real and that there are real consequences. There's plenty of evidence and it has unfortunately been co-opted by lots of politically-motivated people (on both the left and right) to further their agendas. Don't you hate when that happens?

Also, I don';t think any serious scientist who is interested in global warming would suggest that it is possible to get the earth back to a "pristine" state, or that there is such a thing as "pristine". I'm certain they understand that change is inevitable and natural, but there are consequences of the industrial revolution and what has happened since then to the life on this planet.

island said...

Careful, I didn't say that there are no consequences, and I don't disagree with your point that there is evidence that suggests that we need to curb our behavior, but that's no excuse for ignoring the fact that there are valid scienntific models that predict that we are heading into a 100,000 year long ice age that used to be the big scare, until global warmin became the "new-black" of environmentalists.

Look at the illustration above... the runaway effect goes either way, and so you can't ignore either, is my only point.

I really should have made a new post about this, and I want to make clear that I do NOT support the view of the right.

I don't think that there are many non-politically motivated scientists, most of which adhere hard to the left. I have too much experience with the best of them to buy that.

Ms. Anthropic said...

I'm relieved to read that you're not a right-wing nut. One never knows...

island said...

I pretty-much hate both sides equally for all the reasons that I've given since my first words to you. Which also means that I strongly support about half of what each side is saying, and am on either side in a big way, depending on the subject.

I can actually tell you exactly what this is about:

It is a hard known fact that the anthropic coincidences mostly occur over a "range" of potential, and nobody really understands what this range is for if the forces are "set".

In other words the coincidences should be setup exactly balanced as this is idealistically depicted in the illustration, where "any" purterbation causes a runaway effect.

This is not true if something causes the pencil to lean back to the left after something causes it to lean to the right, where anthropic selection does indeed still occur at an exact point.

Nature's balance... think about it.

Ms. Anthropic said...

I guess you bring up a good point about the unfortunate reality of science. Only research that can get funded can get done, and most funders have political agendas. So sad. So how is "good" science getting done these days?

Ms. Anthropic said...

by the way, I thought no man is an island...

island said...

So how is "good" science getting done these days?

I'm doing it for them... ;)

Actually, our conversation got me to thinking about another one that I've been sparsely involved with over at Cosmic Variance, so I was able to use that... challenge somebody to do just that, in a way that they should not find to be "anthropically offensive" to the poor lost anticentrist puppies that live there:

Wish me lots of luck, because I'll need more than a bunch to continue to hold my own in this conversation.

Maybe we're all just "islands in the stream"... ?

Ms. Anthropic said...

Jesus, all of this is so over my head. Good luck with it.

Here's hoping that this is just the start of Kenny Rogers/Dolly Parton references from you. One can never read too many of those.

island said...

Earnest Hemmingway also comes to mind in a way that's much closer to home for me... but uh... I'll work on my country and western twang... ;)

Ms. Anthropic said...

It's so like me to only know low-brow cheesy references when a highbrow reference was intended. Shame on me and my watching too much TV when I was a kid.

island said...

Nah, it's just that one is a little more applicable to me, although I *can* hold a tune and even ride a horse.

Neil' said...

Hello again. I saw ms anthropic's site with my girlfriend and we thought it was a hoot. Well, I see your summary of your guiding principle, but what critics of physical explanations always ask for is: you use some kind of physical reasoning, and actually *derive the values of the constants themselves.* Not just say there's some connection betwee life and matter, talk some roundabout themes like thermo and etc., but go through "Given...assuming...figuring... and that's why G = ... and alpha = ... and the electron mass is .... (in some relative sense) and ... why we don't have classical physics." Then I would have to be impressed. Until then, I can readily believe that those factors are what they are because some "purpose" beyond it all wants it that way. Well, even if you don't agree with me, remember that being a "centrist" of your own sort, we are both pariahs to the conventional scientism dittoheads.

As for global warming versus ice ages: Sure, there would have been an ice age, but our CO2 infusion stopped it not-cold! But instead of a nice cancellation leaving tepid temperatures rolling along, global warming overshoots ice ages. It prevents them from forming by melting ice up North, and then it can get even warmer without the ice to reflect sunlight. BTW the first proper scientific treatment of global warming was written back in 1896, long before libruls took over our classrooms teaching condoms and socialism or whatever:

Svante Arrhenius (1859-1927), winner of the 1903 Noble Prize in Chemistry:
"On the Influence of Carbonic Acid in the Air upon the Temperature of the Ground"
Philosophical Magazine 41, 237-276 (1896)

island said...

As for global warming versus ice ages: Sure, there would have been an ice age, but our CO2 infusion stopped it not-cold! But instead of a nice cancellation leaving tepid temperatures rolling along, global warming overshoots ice ages.

That's not normal global warming, it's a description of the runaway effect

Both global warming and glaciation are equally cumulative, so *some* global warming is continually necessary in order to hold off the cumulative runaway effect that is inherent to the exact opposite of what you said below:

It prevents them from forming by melting ice up North, and then it can get even warmer without the ice to reflect sunlight.

I would agree that we need to back-off, but I'm just as convinced we'll die if we don't continue to efficiently increase entropy.

Efficiency is the key here, anthropic selection has it that we will have the technology to take advantage of the next most difficult path of entropic action, at about the same time that we run out of oil.

Cleaner, more efficient increases, are the key to long term survival.

Neil' said...

>Both global warming and glaciation are equally cumulative, so *some* global warming is >continually necessary in order to hold off the cumulative runaway effect that is inherent >to the exact opposite of what you said below:

>>It prevents them from forming by melting ice up North, and then it can get even warmer >>without the ice to reflect sunlight.

No, they are not "equally cumulative"! It is not like mixing streams of hot and cold water, but non-linear behavior. That's the whole point. The warming actually prevents the cooling trend from having an effect, by melting enough ice to counter the reflection effect. You are right, it is not "normal" global warming we are having now, because of the huge and rapid increase in CO2 level, not just twiddles of the earth's motion, solar variability etc.

BTW, I don't want to return the earth to it's "pristine state." I and most other responsible environmentalists just want to keep plenty of the earth in such a state for our enjoyment and our and the planet's health, and responsibly use the rest. One thing we could do in the US, is to quit rewarding fecundity. Let's stop robbing childless folks to pay out those $1,000 tax credits for children, even to middle-class families! I can spring for public education, but not both! PS - I don't have a problem with expanded nuclear power as long as we can trust the operators and deal responsibly with waste products.

island said...

No, they are not "equally cumulative"!

Yes, they are, Neil... If the accelerating tendency toward glaciation isn't offset by increasing global warming, then the snow doesn't thaw out as much as it did the previous year, which causes the ice to reflect more sunlight...

Like I said, equally opposing runaway tendiencies are at play here, and your attempts to willfully ignore well-known science don't change that.