A modest proposal for detecting design

I’d like to thank everyone who participated in the recent Max’s demon thread, it might be helpful to revisit that OP for context before continuing on to what follows here. http://theskepticalzone.com/wp/maxs-demon-a-design-detection-riddle/

As promised and for what it’s worth I’d now like to submit my proposal for a method for detecting design in situations like Max’s demon where instead of looking at a single isolated artifact or event we are evaluating a happening that is extended spatiotemporally in some way.

I believe that looking at these sorts of phenomena allows us to sidestep the usual sorts of contentious probability discussions that have plagued questions of design inference in the recent past. Usually these discussions involve a single highly unlikely object or event that is only categorized as design or coincidence in retrospect. My hope is that we can in some cases move to determinations based on the correspondence of ongoing observations to predictions and expectations.

Before we begin I’d like to once again clarify a few terms. For our purposes design will be defined as the observable effects of “personal choice” and “personal choice” is simply the the inverse of natural selection as is understood in Darwinian evolution. Such that we can say that something is the result of personal choice (ie designed) when it is ultimately prescribed by something other than it’s immediate local environment.

With that caveat in mind I will detail how my method would work with Max’s demon.

                                            My method

The first step is build the best model(M)that we can given the information we have right now. It could be a physical copy of Max’s original container(O) or it could be a computer simulation or perhaps a just simplified mental description that includes all the known relevant details. The goal would be that the model(M)represents what we know about (O) as it pertains to the specific phenomena(P)we are looking at, namely here a persistent temperature difference between the two chambers of (O). It’s very important to specify ahead of time what P is so as to narrow our focus.

Next I would look to remove P in some way. This could be done by subjecting both my model (M) and the container(O) to temperatures cold enough to completely remove the observable differences between the two chambers in each. Absolute zero for an extended time should do the trick.

At this time I would allow(M)and(O)to thaw for a specified period of time and record any temperature difference that arises between the various chambers in (M)and(O). The difference between these two numbers{(P of O)-(P of M)} gives us a rough approximation of any relevant information present in(O)that is missing in(M)at this particular moment in time.

Now we can repeat the process again and again to look for any variation in P. If we record the results of these trials next to each other we get a number sequence showing information difference in P for each consecutive trial. Below are some examples of what such a sequence might look like.

0,0,0,0,0,0,0…
7,7,7,7,7,7,7…
7,8,9,10,11,12…
1,4,1,4,2,1,3…

In the first sequence we see no measurable difference at all between (P of O)and(P of M). Therefore there appears to be no compelling reason to infer design for P in a process that yields this sequence. Since as far as we know (M) has no ongoing personal choice involved there is no compelling reason to infer that(O)does either at least in context of the singular P we are evaluating. Of course that does not imply that there is not an observable design influence in another aspect that we are not at present evaluating or that design is not involved in the system as a whole.

Moving on to the second sequence it’s interesting to realize that we don’t have to know specifically what is causing the 7 degree difference between (P of M) and (P of O)in order to make a determination. All we have to do is add 7 to each instantiation of (M) and we see the same repeating zeros we saw in number one. And just as with number one we can discount the design inference as superfluous in regards to P.

The same goes for the third sequence we simply add one each time we repeat the trial and we are again left with the first sequence. We can make similar simple modifications to (M) to cause most sequences to morph to zero repeating and demonstrating that a design inference is not warranted.

However when we come to sequences like we see in number four this is not as easy and therefore personal choice becomes a live option for explaining the P in the particular spatio temporal dimension reflected in this sequence.

There is no reason to expect that this sequence will terminate on its own and there is no obvious way that we can modify (M) to make the sequence terminate. It is of course possible that the difference we see is nothing but random voice so we need to look for some sort of recognizable pattern in the sequence before we can say are justified in inferring design.

*A recognizable pattern is just one that allows us to predict the next digit in the sequence before running the trial.

In the case of the third sequence it turns out that the elements are precisely the decimal expansion of the square root of two, an irrational number.

There is no clear way to modify (M) to produce this sequence in full, that does not involve input from something outside the local environment or the container. At a minimum we must assume (O) was frontloaded to react in a certain prescribed but unexpected way to a trial that was only conceived after it was constructed. That sort of input must have come from something that transcends the immediate local environment of the container. Therefore as long as the pattern persists whatever is causing P tentatively meets our criteria for being the result of design.

In short— if a sequence produced by our comparison of (O) with (M) yields a persistent recognizable pattern that can’t be duplicated convincingly by making an adjustment to(M) then it’s my contention that we can infer design for P in more than a purely subjective way. That is it in a nutshell

Few sequences are as cut and dried as the square root of two. In our everyday experience the more sure we are that there can be no satisfactory modification to our model to eliminate the recognizable pattern we see  the more confident we are that the phenomena we are evaluating is the result of design.

For example a sequence like the one below

001002003….. seems to imply design in that every third trial yields an increasing difference  . But it is still open to debate since we don’t know for sure if the sequence is irrational or will eventually repeat or terminate. The longer a recognizable pattern continues with out repeating the more confident we can be in our design inference but only when we know a particular sequence is irrational can we be certain .

Well there you have it

I don’t think that my method is anything new or revolutionary it’s simply an attempt to make more explicit and structured the informal common sense approach that we use all the time when inferring design in these types of situations. Also l want to point out that I don’t need to call my method scientific it’s just important to me that it be reasonable useful and repeatable.

Most of all I want to emphasize my method is not meant to be some sort of argument for the existence of God. His existence is self evident and unavoidably obvious and not to be proved by some puny little human argument. By their very nature such arguments inevitably lead only to foolish human hubris and arrogance instead of any kind of genuine knowledge or wisdom.

We can discuss places other than Max’s demon where this method might prove to be useful and can get into some possible implications in places like evolution, cosmology and artificial intelligence if you like in the comments section.

As usual I apologize ahead of time for spelling and grammar mistakes and welcome any constructive criticism as to clarity or content.

Peace

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267 thoughts on “A modest proposal for detecting design

  1. timothya,

    That was an excellent comment it shows a real comprehension of what I’m thinking about and brings to bear a critique that I had not thought of.

    That is exactly why I posted here. Thank you very much.

    I need to ponder on what you said. You can expect some follow up questions shortly.

    Again thanks!!!!

    peace

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  2. timothya: What happens if I count in “base-irrational”? Let’s see . . .

    Just so we are on the same page

    We do agree that an irrational number has a non-repeating expansion in every rational base right?

    In fact the only way our irrational sequence becomes rational is if we choose a counting system corresponding to the sequence itself right?

    So the only algorithmic way to predict the decimal expansion of an irrational number is to begin at the outset with the exact same irrational number. Right???

    You need to know the number before you can calculate it. Right??

    Again all of this is very interesting. Let me know where I’m wrong

    Thanks

    You are officially my new favorite

    peace

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  3. faded_Glory: Now that I have opened the floodgates for the resident philosophers to come in and confuse us all, I better bow out of this conversation

    I hope the philosophers will resist that temptation to confuse us. At least for a little while. 😉

    I’ve really enjoyed the interaction and I do hope you hang around. Your input has been invaluable

    peace

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  4. fifthmonarchyman: Just so we are on the same page

    We do agree that an irrational number has a non-repeating expansion in every rational base right?

    I believe, based on what I have read, that there is a theorem justifying this position.

    In fact the only way our irrational sequence becomes rational is if we choose a counting system corresponding to the sequence itself right?

    So the only algorithmic way to predict the decimal expansion of an irrational number is to begin at the outset with the exact same irrational number. Right???

    Not necessarily. I can find no definitive information that this is either true or untrue. I don’t know enough maths to pontificate on the issue.

    You need to know the number before you can calculate it. Right??

    Not necessarily. It might be possible to locate the appropriate irrational by some sort of Monte Carlo sampling in the region around the object’s output. It also may be possible that counting systems based on other irrationals (than the one apparently being output) may resolve to a rational result. I don’t know and can find no research covering the possibility.

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  5. timothya: Not necessarily. It might be possible to locate the appropriate irrational by some sort of Monte Carlo sampling in the region around the object’s output.

    I don’t think so. If i’m not mistaken Irrationals are called irrational not because they are crazy but because they can’t be reached by rational means Ie they cant be calculated.

    Here is what it looks like for Monte Carlo sampling to tackle the sequence of Pi.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monte_Carlo_method#/media/File:Pi_30K.gif

    It’s actually a good way to get a handle on why this sort of thing is inadequate to get at irrationals. Notice that we only get closer to the target we can never quite get there in full. The estimate in this case is 0.34% more than the actual value.

    timothya: It also may be possible that counting systems based on other irrationals (than the one apparently being output) may resolve to a rational result.

    I think you are right on this one but in order to calculate the sequence the base must correspond to the irrational in some way like this

    https://www.nextgurukul.in/nganswers/ask-question/answer/Give-exmple-of-two-irrational-numbers-whose-sum-is-rational/Number-Systems/8969.htm

    peace

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  6. newton: Looks like the knowledge and skill of the modeler makes a difference.

    If you mean knowledge of the demon’s nature then yes. It’s not about knowing how to make a good model it’s about knowing the designer.

    As I said before I believe there is some sort of communication going on between the designer and the observer when we accurately infer design.

    peace

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  7. fifthmonarchyman: If you mean knowledge of the demon’s nature then yes

    Knowledge of the phenomenon actually, finding out an explanation for it is the point, right? The unknown nature of an unknown designer is hard to pin down, that is why the possible range of their personal choices is hard to extrapolate. It could go from undetectable to obvious.

    It’s not about knowing how to make a good model it’s about knowing the designer.

    So you say, a bad model will not explain the phenomenon with any predictive power, (the sun is a lump of burning coal ), or anything other than an ad hoc explanation.

    And in a theory that relies on no model ever , one could only know that by testing every logically possible model , of course this is difficult to do.

    For some reason you reject the model that more skillful , more creative , more knowledgeable the modeler is and the greater resources available to him ,the greater the range of possible models.

    The advent of the microscope , increased the range of models to explain diseases.

    As I said before I believe there is some sort of communication going on between the designer and the observer when we accurately infer design.

    peace

    No argument there, art for instance, symbolic structures,movies, music. But observers are not a tabula rasa, observers can be incorrect , comets foreshadow disaster.

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  8. fifthmonarchyman: I believe there is some sort of communication going on between the designer and the observer when we accurately infer design.

    That seems obvious, trivial and circular. I thought you were a developing a method of distinguishing designed objects from non-designed objects merely by inspection. Seems a slam-dunk to make the distinction if the designer is going to tell you she’s the designer.

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  9. fifthmonarchyman: I don’t think so. If i’m not mistaken Irrationals are called irrational not because they are crazy but because they can’t be reached by rational means Ie they cant be calculated.

    Here is what it looks like for Monte Carlo sampling to tackle the sequence of Pi.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monte_Carlo_method#/media/File:Pi_30K.gif

    It’s actually a good way to get a handle on why this sort of thing is inadequate to get at irrationals. Notice that we only get closer to the target we can never quite get there in full. The estimate in this case is 0.34% more than the actual value.

    I think you are right on this one but in order to calculate the sequence the base must correspond to the irrational in some way like this

    https://www.nextgurukul.in/nganswers/ask-question/answer/Give-exmple-of-two-irrational-numbers-whose-sum-is-rational/Number-Systems/8969.htm

    peace

    The mathematical consensus seems to be that there are multiple (in fact, infinitely many) bases that will numerically represent an irrational number as a rational. Base-pi, base-phi, base-pi-squared simply sit on the tip of the iceberg.

    Note that the original system ouput remains irrational; it is only the numerical representation under the base transformation that is rational. But that is the point – you have chosen to use a decimal base transformation, which, as I have shown, has no particular informational privilege.

    Your appeal to the infinite extent of irrational expansions is irrelevant. You are not proposing an abstract system, but one comprised of condensed physical matter (how else could an investigator interrogate it?). You don’t require infinite precision to match a model’s output to a physical system. Close enough is good enough.

    In any case, here is a counter-example that stands against your contention. Imagine your system outputs a continuous stream of 1s. By your original argument, we would not infer design.

    But consider this: one of the fundamental parts of the original design of physical Ethernet systems was that the “idle” state of a circuit is a continuous stream of binary ones (semantically “ready and waiting”). So your method would reject design in the case of an extremely complex, designed system – the physical Internet. Well done, your method!

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  10. timothya: So your method would reject design in the case of an extremely complex, designed system – the physical Internet.

    Another insightful comment.

    However you need to keep in mind that my method is about personal choice.

    A person can choose to act like an algorithm but an algorithm can’t choose to act like a person.

    In the case you mention we would not see one continuous stream of binary ones because we are running separate independent trials and the continuous stream you are referring to is just one unlikely event.

    more later

    peace

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  11. Taken in reverse order . . .

    fifthmonarchyman In the case you mention we would not see one continuous stream of binary ones because we are running separate independent trials and the continuous stream you are referring to is just one unlikely event.

    This is not true in the example I gave. No matter how many “trials” you undertake, the system (because it is an idle internet circuit) will always yield a binary 1 when you measure its output. Under your rules, you conclude that it is not designed.

    My rules would be different.

    fifthmonarchyman However you need to keep in mind that my method is about personal choice.

    A person can choose to act like an algorithm but an algorithm can’t choose to act like a person.

    Your assertion may or may not be true – we lack conclusive evidence one way or the other. But it is certainly true that allowing “personal choice” to be a factor in scientific investigations is a very bad idea. In fact, good experimentalists strive to eliminate subjective factors from their protocols as far as is humanly possible.

    Bear with me for an example from my limited experience in research.

    Consider a plantation of trees. A basic question in forestry is “How can I best model the growth of the trees so that I can predict how much merchantable timber will be produced at the end of the rotation in forty years time?” I already know that there are a number of variables affecting tree growth, specifically:
    – tree age
    – gross soil nutrition (known in the trade as NPK status)
    – trace element status (particularly boron deficiency)
    – climate (typically measured as rainfall)
    – soil type (groundwater retention)
    – site aspect (north- or south-facing slope)
    – genetic index (measures the degree of artificial selection in the stock over the wild type)

    My initial hypothesis might be something like “all these factors contribute to growth rate, but at differential proportions, and are independent of each other. I expect that tree growth will be best modelled by an equation in the form of X (insert predicted function)”. I would then construct a set of experiments that cover the range of variation in all of the hypothesised factors.

    But, most importantly, within any experiment, the individual tree plots will test for variation in a single factor – all the other factors will not be allowed to vary. To do otherwise is to invite confirmation bias. The experimental design protocol is very strict: I must randomly assign the treatments and controls within each experimental plot, and between separate experiments. No personal choice is permitted.

    The results may or may not confirm my hypothesis, but one thing will certainly be true – personal choice played no role in the experiment.

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  12. Just a quick comment here, ID has always been vulnerable to false negatives (i.e. one concludes no design even though there was design). I don’t think many people are bothered by that. The real challenge is to come up with a methodology that excludes false positives (design concluded even though there wasn’t any). So far nobody has come up with something that reliably achieves this.

    History is rife with false positives – cf. animism.

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  13. timothya: . No matter how many “trials” you undertake, the system (because it is an idle internet circuit) will always yield a binary 1 when you measure its output.

    Actually this is not the case. In order to run a trial in my method you would need to destroy the internet and start from scratch to see if a similar system arose each time. This illustrates the importance of specifying in advance the phenomena you are evaluating.

    There is nothing specifically unusual about a pulsing signal you see that in many things in nature pulsars for example. What is unusual in the case of an internet circuit is the origin of the system and it’s utility. That is a single unlikely event and won’t work with this method .

    timothya: Your assertion may or may not be true – we lack conclusive evidence one way or the other.

    If Phil Maguire’s thinking is correct we do have conclusive mathematical proof that this is the case.

    It all depends whether consciousness is a nonlossy data compression or if the compression is lossy and you would still be the same person despite having different experiences.

    I think that it’s self evidently true that my consciousness is the sum total everything I have experienced in life but am not aware of a way to prove it other than with basic mental reflection.

    timothya: it is certainly true that allowing “personal choice” to be a factor in scientific investigations is a very bad idea.

    I agree. My method is an attempt to be able to identify “personal choice” so you can minimize it as a factor.

    If there is no way to identify “design” as we are defining it then scientific investigations are always highly suspect. If personally chosen treatments and controls were indistinguishable from random ones then science as an enterprise would be very different, perhaps even nonexistent .

    peace

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  14. faded_Glory: History is rife with false positives – cf. animism.

    I would not be so quick to label animism as a false positive. I think that it’s simply a mistaken attribution where the design is attributed to the object itself instead of it’s creator. Just as we might assume that there is a demon inside Max’s container when in fact the design we see came from the person who built it.

    But that is another conversation 😉

    peace

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  15. I think I am done with it.

    In another thread, FMM said:

    “As a Calvinist I would say there is no such thing as random and arbitrary. Everything that happens in the universe is decreed by a good God and for good reason. “

    In my view there is no difference between everything being decreed by God and everything being designed (by God). Or does God make decrees along the lines of ‘go forth and randomize‘?

    If everything is designed, the quest for a methodology to distinguish design from non-design is doomed from the start. So why waste our time on it?

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