Couldn’t happen to more deserving guy

No Andrew Wakefield  Ha.  Wakefield finally gets all the respect he’s due.  Which is none.

ht: Kavin Senapathy:

“Disgraced former gastroenterologist and researcher Andrew Wakefield, known for a fraudulent 1998 paper linking the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine with autism, directs the movie” [Vaxxed]


After initially inviting a showing of the anti-vax propaganda, Robert de Niro and the Tribeca Film Festival team decided to drop the quacks from the schedule.


Not surprisingly, Wakefield – whose livelihood depends solely on speaking fees and book sales to the anti-vax community – is quick to whine about “totalitarian censorship”.  He cries, “We were denied due process”. 


As Senapathy responds:

“Due process? Due process clauses in the 5th and 14th amendments to the United States Constitution only apply when government is involved. This isn’t a court of law, and Andrew Wakefield doesn’t deserve such considerations for his anti-vaccine propaganda film. He doesn’t deserve a platform to spread anti-vaccine disinformation, after widespread panic in the wake of his fraudulent paper led to a sharp drop in vaccination rates and thousands of preventable deaths and counting from vaccine preventable disease.

In the meantime, there have been a whopping zero casesof autism caused by vaccines.”





Identifying what the designer does – stealing bikes!?


“The reason a bike lock works,” explains Meyer, “is that there are vastly more ways of arranging those numeric characters that will keep the lock closed than there are that will open the lock.”

Most bicycle locks have four dials with ten digits. So for a thief to steal the bike, he would have to guess correctly from among 10,000 possible combinations. No easy task.

But what about DNA? Well, in experiments Axe conducted at Cambridge, he found that for a DNA sequence generating a short protein just 150 amino acids in length, for every 1 workable arrangement of amino acids, there are 10 to the 77th possible unworkable amino acid arrangements. Using the bicycle lock analogy, that’s a lock with 77 dials containing 10 digits.

I believe this is what Mung has been talking about. I asked Mung: Continue reading

The Disunity of Reason

Last night I was talking with an old friend of mine, an atheist Jew, who is now in the best relationship of her life with a devout Roman Catholic. We talked about the fact that she was more surprised than he was about the fact that their connection transcends their difference in metaphysics. He sees himself as a devout Roman Catholic; she sees him as a good human being.

This conversation reminded me of an older thought that’s been swirling around in my head for a few weeks: the disunity of reason.

It is widely held by philosophers (that peculiar sub-species!) that reason is unified: that the ideally rational person is one for whom there are no fissures, breaks, ruptures, or discontinuities anywhere in the inferential relations between semantic contents that comprise his or her cognitive grasp of the world (including himself or herself as part of that world).

This is particularly true when it comes to the distinction between “theoretical reason” and “practical reason”. By “theoretical reason” I mean one’s ability to conceptualize the world-as-experienced as more-or-less systematic, and by “practical reason” I mean one’s ability to act in the world according to judgments that are justified by agent-relative and also agent-indifferent reasons (“prudence” and “morality”, respectively).

The whole philosophical tradition from Plato onward assumes that reason is unified, and especially, that theoretical and practical reason are unified — different exercises of the same basic faculty. Some philosophers think of them as closer together than others — for example, Aristotle distinguishes between episteme (knowledge of general principles in science, mathematics, and metaphysics) and phronesis (knowledge of particular situations in virtuous action). But even Aristotle does not doubt that episteme and phronesis are exercises of a single capacity, reason (nous).

However, as we learn more about how our cognitive system is actually structured, we should consider the possibility that reason is not unified at all. If Horst’s Cognitive Pluralism is right, then we should expect that our minds are more like patchworks of domain-specific modules that can reason quite well within those domains but not so well across them.

To Horst’s model I’d add the further conjecture: that we have pretty good reason to associate our capacity for “theoretical reason” (abstract thinking and long-term planning) with the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and also pretty good reason to associate our capacity for “practical reason” (self-control and virtuous conduct) with the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (and especially in its dense interconnections with the limbic system).

But if that conjecture is on the right track, then we would expect to find consistency between theoretical reason and practical reason only to the extent that there are reciprocal interconnections between these regions of prefrontal cortex. And of course there are reciprocal interconnections — but (and this is the important point!) to the extent that these regions are also functionally distinct, then to that same extent reason is disunified. 

And as a consequence, metaphysics and ethics may have somewhat less to do with each other than previous philosophers have supposed.



A Beautiful Question

I’ve just completed the book A Beautiful Question: Finding Nature’s Deep Design by Nobel Prize winning physicist Frank Wilczek.

This book is a long meditation on a single question:

Does the world embody beautiful ideas?

Our Question may seem like a strange thing to ask. Ideas are one thing, physical bodies are quite another. What does it mean to “embody” an “idea”?

Embodying ideas is what artists do. Starting from visionary conceptions, artists produce physical objects (or quasi-physical products, like musical scores that unfold into sound). Our Beautiful Question then is close to this one:

Is the world a work of art?

Continue reading

God said “Let there be light”

No, this isn’t a religion thread.  It’s a response to some posts in the intentionality thread.

Quoting from Genesis:

1:3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

I’m going to take that as a metaphor.  I’ll take “let there be light” to stand for the evolution of light sensitive cells in some biological organisms.  Once they had light sensitive cells, they had the possibility of distinguishing between light and dark.

1:4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

1:5 And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.

I was taught that the most basic step in geometry is to draw a line, and divide the world into the part on one side of the line and that on the other side of the line.

So, what we see here can be considered geometry.  It is also an example of what philosophers describe as “carving the world at the seams”, except that there are no seams.  We divide the external world on the basis of an internal criterion (the state of the light sensitive cells).

This dividing can also be called “categorization”.  That’s one of the possible meanings of “categorization”, and I see it as the important one.

Continue reading

Life with Intelligent Design

People want to know what happens if ID wins. What scientific research will ID spawn?

That’s easy- for starters there are all of those questions that get asked by any design inference- the who, what, how, when, where and why- all valid research venues given ID. There’s plenty there to keep scientists busy for decades, if not longer.

With respect to biology we would set out to find that something else, the something else besides chemistry and physics that makes living organisms what they are.

With respect to SETI we would use the findings from “The Privileged Planet” to find any other technologically capable civilizations and habitable planets.

So far from being a scientific dead-end ID would spawn new research that will keep us busy for some time.


President Trump?

I’ve been following the current round of US primaries with some interest. Not ever having visited the US, I have no business criticizing the system or the candidates but I must admit to being fascinated by the progress of Donald Trump and the seemingly growing possibility that he may become the Republican presidential candidate. Presumably, there is also the possibility that he could become the next President of the United States. Continue reading

Does original intentionality exist?

“Intentionality” is a philosophical term for “aboutness”. A movie review is about a movie, and the sentence “Trump is a narcissist” is about Trump. Your thoughts concerning today’s breakfast are about today’s breakfast. Each of these is about something else, so each exhibits intentionality.

How do these things acquire their aboutness? “Trump is a narcissist” isn’t inherently about the man who bears the name “Donald Trump”.  Had Trump’s family retained their Germanic surname, Drumpf, then “Trump is a narcissist” would no longer be about the man we call “the Donald”. The intentionality of the sentence is derivative; that is, it derives from the pre-existing convention of referring to a particular man as “Donald Trump”.

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The Real EleP(T|H)ant in the Room

TSZ has made much ado about P(T|H), a conditional probability based on a materialistic hypothesis. They don’t seem to realize that H pertains to their position and that H cannot be had means their position is untestable. The only reason the conditional probability exists in the first place is due to the fact that the claims of evolutionists cannot be directly tested in a lab. If their claims could be directly tested then there wouldn’t be any need for a conditional probability.

If P(T|H) cannot be calculated it is due to the failure of evolutionists to provide H and their failure to find experimental evidence to support their claims.

I know what the complaints are going to be- “It is Dembski’s metric”- but yet it is in relation to your position and it wouldn’t exist if you actually had something that could be scientifically tested.



Epigenetic Memory Changes during Embryogenesis

DNA is not just a static read-only memory (ROM) for coding proteins, but hosts dynamic random access memory (RAM) in the form of methylations and histone modifications for regulation of gene expression, cellular differentiation, learning and cognition, and who knows what else. The picture below depicts how rapidly the RAM aspect of DNA is changed during embryogenesis.
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Tetrapod Evolution and the Evolution of Consciousness

It is here proposed that the evolution of life was destined to produce self consciousness out of physical matter just as surely as self-consciousness is destined to be produced by the build up of matter from the human zygote.

Our external vantage point allows us to see the process whereby an individual human matures from the point of conception  We are in a position to witness all the stages in the life of individual humans. Activities such as birth, death, growth and decay go on all around us. Conversely on the grand scale of things, taking life as a whole, we are in the middle of evolving life and so we don’t have an overall, clear picture of the process.

In this video Sean B. Carroll states that:
…living things are occupying a planet whose surface is always changing. Hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanoes, tectonic movement, ice ages, climate changes whether local or global, all of these keep changing the environments that species are in, they are running to keep up and most of the time they fail. So we have to think about earth’s history to understand life’s history. We have to understand what’s going on at any particular place to appreciate what’s going on with any particular species.

The same could be said for the cells in your body. Their environment is always changing and most of them do not survive as you change from embryo to adult. From an individual cell’s point of view there may not seem to be any direction.Some live some die, some change slowly, others change dramatically. But from the higher perspective of the whole body there certainly is direction.

Continue reading

Money and happiness

Can money buy happiness?  These people, waiting for hours to buy lottery tickets, seem to think so, or at least are willing to test the hypothesis (turn off your sound — the commentary is annoying):

What does science say?  The short answer is that money can buy happiness, at least up to a point.  The long answer is quite complicated.

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Recent discussions of genetic algorithms here and Dave Thomas’ evisceration of Winston Ewert’s review of several genetic algorithms at The Panda’s Thumb prompted me to dust off my notes and ev implementation.


In the spring of 1984, Thomas Schneider submitted his Ph.D thesis demonstrating that the information content of DNA binding sites closely approximates the information required to identify the sites in the genome. In the week between submitting his thesis and defending it, he wrote a software simulation to confirm that the behavior he observed in biological organisms could arise from a subset of known evolutionary mechanisms. Specifically, starting from a completely random population, he used only point mutations and simple fitness-based selection to create the next generation.

The function of ev is to explain and model an observation about natural systems.
— Thomas D. Schneider

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Foundationalism and Anti-Foundationalism

There’s a deep and fascinating question about whether we need “foundations” in our philosophical system, and if so, why and what kind.

First question: is the foundationalism primarily epistemological (foundations of knowledge) or ontological (foundations of being)?*

Second question: insofar as foundationalism implies a hierarchy, is the grounding or fundamental principle at the top of the hierarchy or at the bottom?

These two questions give us four positions:

top-down epistemological foundationalism: rationalism
bottom-up epistemological foundationalism: empiricism
top-down ontological foundationalism: theism/idealism
bottom-up ontological foundationalism: materialism

The ontological foundationalism can be reductive or non-reductive. Hence:
reductive top-down ontological foundationalism: idealism
non-reductive top-down ontological foundationalism: emanationism
reductive bottom-up ontological foundationalism: physicalism
non-reductive bottom-up ontological foundationalism: emergentism

Likewise, anti-foundationalism can also be epistemological or ontological:

epistemological anti-foundationalism: pragmatism (or: the good parts of Hegel/Peirce/Sellars)*
ontological anti-foundationalism: process ontology (or: the good parts of Spinoza/Whitehead/Deleuze)*

The main reason why I have resisted efforts to interpret me as an empiricist or materialist is that both empiricism and materialism are forms of foundationalism. Since I am an anti-foundationalist (both in epistemology and in ontology) I am as opposed to empiricism as I am to rationalism, and as opposed to materialism as I am to theism. My views might look like those of an empiricist/physicalist, but only if one insists on interpreting those views through the lens of the foundationalism that I reject.

As time permits I’ll explore the arguments for epistemological anti-foundationalism and ontological anti-foundationalism. For now I just wanted to get the conversation started.

*I’m leaving aside ethical and political versions of foundationalism and anti-foundationalism, though I think that’s where the philosophical action is really at.

** I’m only citing philosophers in the Western canon here, but Nagarjuna in the Madhyamika tradition of Tibetan Buddhism developed a consistently anti-foundationalist epistemology and ontology one and a half millennia  before it was even conceived of in the West. Within the West, probably Nietzsche and Dewey would be the first consistently anti-foundationalist philosophers.

CRISPR goes retro: Bacteria can also take ‘RNA mug shots’ of threatening RNA-viruses.

The emergence of life for the first time on this planet constitutes the classic question of what came first; the chicken or the egg?!  Did a self-replicating DNA system occur before transcription or translation evolved (the DNA World) or did a self-replicating RNA system first emerge (the RNA world) or did self-replicating protein system first emerge (the Protein World)…or … let’s just leave it there for now. Continue reading