The LCI and Bertrand’s Box

Tom English has recommended that we read Dembski and Marks’ paper on their Law of Conservation of Information (not to be confused with the Dembski’s previous LCI from his book No Free Lunch). Dembski also has touted the paper several times, and I too recommend it as a stark display of the the authors’ thinking.

Most people won’t take the time to carefully read a 34-page paper, but I submit that the authors’ core concept of “conservation of information” is very easily understood if we avoid equivocal and misleading terms such as information, search, and target. I’ll illustrate it with a setup borrowed from Joseph Bertrand.

The “Bertrand’s box” scenario is as follows: We’re presented with three small outwardly identical boxes, each containing two coins. One has a two silver coins, one has two gold coins, and one has a silver coin and a gold coin. We’ll call the boxes SS, GG, and SG. We are to randomly choose a box, and then randomly pull a coin from the chosen box.

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Granville Sewell vs Bob Lloyd

Bob Lloyd, professor emeritus of chemistry at Trinity College Dublin, wrote an opinion article in Mathematical Intelligencer (MI) commenting on Sewell’s not-quite-published AML article. This was mentioned in a previous thread, where Bob briefly commented. Granville was invited to participate but never showed up.

In response to Lloyd, Sewell submitted a letter to the editor. On advice of a referee, his letter was rejected. (Rightly so, in my view. More on that later.) Sewell has now written a post on Discovery Institute’s blog describing his latest misfortune. The post contains Sewell’s unpublished letter and some of the referee’s comments. I invite you to continue the technical discussion of Sewell’s points started earlier.

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More on Marks, Dembski, and No Free Lunch, by Tom English

Tom English has a great post at his blog, Bounded Science, which I have his permission to cross post here:

Bob Marks grossly misunderstands “no free lunch”

And so does Bill Dembski. But it is Marks who, in a “Darwin or Design?” interview, reveals plainly the fallacy at the core of his and Dembski’s notion of “active information.” (He gets going at 7:50. To select a time, it’s best to put the player in full-screen mode. I’ve corrected slips of the tongue in my transcript.)

[The “no free lunch” theorem of Wolpert and Macready] said that with a lack of any knowledge about anything, that one search was as good as any other search. [14:15]And what Wolpert and Macready said was, my goodness, none of these [“search”] algorithms work as well as [better than] any other one, on the average, if you have no idea what you’re doing. And so the question is… and what we’ve done here is, if indeed that is true, and an algorithm works, then that means information has been added to the search. And what we’ve been able to do is take this baseline, that all searches are the same, and we’ve been able to, in cases where searches work, measure the information that is placed into the algorithm in bits. And we have looked at some of the evolutionary algorithms, and we found out that, strikingly, they are not responsible for any creation of information. [14:40]

And according to “no free lunch” theorems, astonishingly, any search, without information about the problem that you’re looking for, will operate at the same level as blind search.” And that’s… It’s a mind-boggling result. [28:10]

Bob has read into the “no free lunch” (NFL) theorem what he believed in the first place, namely that if something works, it must have been designed to do so. Although he gets off to a good start by referring to the subjective state of the practitioner (“with a lack of knowledge,” “if you have no idea what you’re doing”), he errs catastrophically by making a claim about the objective state of affairs (“one search is as good as any other search,” “all searches are the same”).

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A Few Comments on A Vivisection of the ev Computer Organism

I’ll follow Patrick’s lead and offer a few comments on another paper from the Evolutionary Informatics Lab. The paper analyzes Tom Schneider’s ev program, and while there are several problems with the analysis, I’ll focus on the first two sentences of the conclusions:

The success of ev is largely due to active information introduced by the Hamming oracle and from the perceptron structure. It is not due to the evolutionary algorithm used to perform the search.

To explain the authors’ terminology, active information is defined quantitatively as a measure of relative search performance — to say that something provides N bits of active information is to say that it increases the probability of success by a factor of 2N. The Hamming oracle is a function that reports the Hamming distance between the its input and a fixed target. The perceptron structure is another function whose details aren’t important to this post. Figure 1 shows how these three components are connected in an iterative feedback loop.

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Natural Selection- What is it and what does it do?

Well let’s look at what natural selection is-

 “Natural selection is the result of differences in survival and reproduction among individuals of a population that vary in one or more heritable traits.” Page 11 “Biology: Concepts and Applications” Starr fifth edition

“Natural selection is the simple result of variation, differential reproduction, and heredity—it is mindless and mechanistic.” UBerkley

“Natural selection is the blind watchmaker, blind because it does not see ahead, does not plan consequences, has no purpose in view.” Dawkins in “The Blind Watchmaker”?

“Natural selection is therefore a result of three processes, as first described by Darwin:


which together result in non-random, unequal survival and reproduction of individuals, which results in changes in the phenotypes present in populations of organisms over time.”- Allen McNeill prof. introductory biology and evolution at Cornell University

OK so it is a result of three processes- ie an output. But is it really non-random as Allen said? Nope, whatever survives to reproduce survives to reproduce. And that can be any number of variations taht exist in a population.

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Review: Climbing the Steiner Tree


Winston Ewert, William Dembski, and Robert J. Marks II have made available a paper titled Climbing the Steiner Tree — Sources of Active Information in a Genetic Algorithm for Solving the Euclidean Steiner Tree Problem wherein they claim to have identified sources of “active information” in a genetic algorithm used to find solutions to a Steiner problem. The problem referenced in this paper was originally described by Dave Thomas on the Panda’s Thumb almost six years ago. I developed a GA to solve the problem that Dave posed as a challenge a few weeks later, as did a number of other people.

This paper suffers from numerous flaws, starting with a fundamental mischaracterization of the purpose of Thomas’s solution and including general misunderstanding of genetic algorithms, misapplication of the No Free Lunch theorems, spurious claims about “active information”, and incorrect and unsupported assertions regarding the impact of certain GA implementation details.
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A question has come up in another thread about the term “evidence”, and what qualifies (and does not qualify) as evidence.  This particular debate has come about when Elizabeth said, in relation to an ongoing description of my model of “how things work” (free will/psychoplasm), said:

The problem it seems to me, with your model is that a) there is no evidence to support it whatsoever and b) we have a supported model that works pretty well.

I then challenged that assertion about the state of evidence with:

Can you support your assertion that “there is no evidence to support it whatsoever”?

She responded:

No, and I will qualify: I am aware of no evidence to support it, and I speak as one fairly well acquainted with the empirical literature.

Which I found odd, since I had given testimony (or, as Robin later said, “claimed”) that this model apparently worked well for me, others I know, and had in this thread and the Free Will thread pointed ouit various other similar doctrines that are chock full of such testimony (or “claims”). So, I asked:

So, my testimony, and that of others through various media, is not evidence?

Unfortunately, Elizabeth has yet to respond to that question. However, Robin contributed his/her answer:

No. Claims are never evidence of what is being claimed; they are solely evidence that someone made a claim. Why? Because anyone can make a mistake or even lie.

I think this deserves its own thread, for reasons I think will become clear. Before responding to Robin, though, I’d like for others to weigh in on the question of if testimony (not in the court sense, but in they typical “claim” sense), through various forms of media, is evidence.

Reservations About ID, Rottenness in Creationism

As a card carrying creationist, I’ve sometimes wanted to post about my reservations regarding the search for evidence of Intelligent Design (ID) and some of the rottenness in the search for evidence in young earth creation. I’ve refrained from speaking my mind on these matters too frequently lest I ruffle the feathers of the few friends I have left in the world (the ID community and the creationist community). But I must speak out and express criticism of my own side of the aisle on occasion.

Before proceeding, I’d like to thank Elizabeth for her hospitality in letting me post here. She invited me to post some things regarding my views of Natural Selection and Genetic Algorithms, but in the spirit of skepticism I want to offer criticism of some of my own ideas.So this essay will sketch what I consider valid criticism of ID, creationism in general and Young Earth Creationism (YEC) in particular.

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Todd Wood on the Tennessee bill (and falsification)

He makes some very interesting comments, and also this point, which I think is worth making:

I know for a fact that evolution cannot be falsified; it can only be replaced.

“Falsification” has become kind of shibboleth that in my view has outlived its usefulness as a criterioin for what is, or is not, science.  We don’t actually proceed by what people usually mean by “falsification” in science, IMO, we proceed by replacing existing models with better ones (in that sense, of course, all models with a better fit to data than a previous model “falsify” the previous model – but that’s not what people usually mean).  So I think Todd, as so often, is right here.  Of course I think he is radically wrong about the age of the earth, but that’s another story!

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Privileged Planet

Toronto posted this comment on another thread:

A privileged planet, ( for observation of the universe ), would be one that could see “most” of the universe, i.e. not part of it.

We would sit on “top” of the universe so we could see more star systems than having to look “through” a mass of stars.

This position would also cut down on the effects of gravitational lensing.

We would also have a unique orbit both within our solar system, and as part of it.

Our solar system’s orbit would take us close to other star systems so we could investigate them without having to build spaceships that take more than a scientist’s lifetime to get anywhere.

Our atmosphere would shield us from almost any deadly radiation but not impede any signal we require for observing the universe.

Sadly , none of these things are true.

In reality, like any other planet, our positions are relatively fixed for much longer than our lifetime and radiation from the stars would kill us if we got close enough to observe them, provided the gravitational forces or asteroid impacts don’t kill us first.

which sparked a lengthy discussion, which at first I moved to Sandbox, but will now move here.

Enjoy 🙂

Libertarian Free Will

The concept of Libertarian Free Will (and the contextualizations that must accompany it) is really just too big to tackle all at once, so I’m going to begin with a thread to serve as a basic primer about my view of Libertarian Free Will (LFW) – what I posit it to be, ontologically speaking, and how I describe it.

The basic difference between compatibilist free will and libertarian free will is that compatibilist intents are ultimately manufactured effects of unintentional brute processes. No matter how many layers of “pondering” “meta-pondering” one adds, or how many “modules” or “partitions” are added to the mix, it all still ultimately boils down to intentions being sufficiently explained as effects of brute (unintentional) forces. That is the root of all will in the compatibilist view; ultimately, humans do as they will, but do not will as they will, regardless of how many pre-action “intentions” they put in the chain.

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Intention and action

The subject of intention and action has come up few times, so I thought I’d start a thread.

From my point of view as a cognitive neuroscientist,  decision-making (which action to take) is best conceived of as a kind of winner-take-all arm-wrestling competition, in which competing programs (represented as networks of active neurons) of action exert a mutually inhibitory effect on on the other, while each receives excitatory input from various other other networks, each of which in turn are engaged in a kind of subsidiary arm-wrestling match with some networks and a mutually cheer-leading match with others.

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