A nontechnical recap

David Nemati and Eric Holloway, “Expected Algorithmic Specified Complexity.” Bio-Complexity 2019 (2):1-10. doi:10.5048/BIO-C.2019.2. Editor: William Basener. Editor-in-Chief: Robert J. Marks II.

I recommend that you read “Recap Redux” instead of this post.

In Section 4 of their article, Nemati and Holloway claim to have identified an error in a post of mine. They do not cite the post, but instead name me, and link to the homepage of The Skeptical Zone. Thus there can be no question as to whether the authors regard technical material that I post here as worthy of a response in Bio-Complexity. (A year earlier, George Montañez modified a Bio-Complexity article, adding information that I supplied in precisely the post that Nemati and Holloway address.) Interacting with me at TSZ, a month ago, Eric Holloway acknowledged error in an equation that I had told him was wrong, expressed interest in seeing the next part of my review, and said, “If there is a fundamental flaw in the second half, as you claim, then I’ll retract it if it is unfixable.” I subsequently put a great deal of work into “The Old Switcheroo,” trying to anticipate all of the ways in which Holloway might wiggle out of acknowledging his errors. Evidently I left him no avenue of escape, given that he now refuses to engage at all, and insists that I submit my criticisms to Bio-Complexity.

The notion that I must submit to Bio-Complexity is ludicrous, considering my past interactions with the editor-in-chief, Robert Marks, and a member of the editorial board, Winston Ewert. In 2011, I discovered that more than half of the introduction to Ewert’s thesis was copied from two articles by Dembski and Marks. There was no sign of quotation, and the articles were cited nowhere in the thesis. Stunningly, Marks was Ewert’s thesis advisor. That is, Marks approved a document that obviously plagiarized his own publications. And I reported the academic misconduct to EthicsPoint. Baylor University subsequently required Ewert to submit a revised thesis, including a preamble in which he admits to plagiarism in the original version. In all likelihood, Marks was censured privately. (I reported on the sordid affair here, here, and here.) The truly amazing aspect of Bio-Complexity is that more than half of the articles it has published were authored by Ewert. I have no more interest in legitimizing the journal than I have reason to expect fair handling of a submission exposing negligence in the review and editing of the article by Nemati and Holloway.

According to Nemati and Holloway (and their former advisor, Robert Marks), each and every measure of algorithmic specified complexity — there are infinitely many of them — is a quantification of the meaningful information in data. The first “fundamental flaw” in Section 4 is that the way in which the algorithmic specified complexity of the data is measured depends on how we refer to the data. Suppose that the expression y refers to the data, and that y = f(x). You need not know how f and x are defined to recognize that f(x) is another way of referring to the data. The algorithmic specified complexity of the data should not depend on whether we refer to the data as y or as f(x). This is something that most high schoolers grasp, and I am amazed to find myself explaining it here. According to the authors, the algorithmic specified complexity of the data must be measured in a way that depends upon the function f when the data is referred to as f(x). If you measure algorithmic specified complexity as they prescribe, then there are cases in which the result is infinite when the data is referred to as y, and the result is a negative number when the data is referred to as f(x).

The second “fundamental flaw” is that an ostensible characterization of “conservation of complexity for ASC” turns out, when deobfuscated, to be a comparison of differently measured quantities of algorithmic specified complexity. For concreteness, let us say that f(x) is the data output by a process when x is the data input to the process. In any claim that a quantity of algorithmic specified complexity is conserved in the process, the measure must be the same for the output as for the input. However, Nemati and Holloway use the function f, which represents the process, to make the measure of algorithmic specified complexity different for the output of the process, expressed as f(x), than for the input to the process, expressed as x. It is absurd to suggest that a quantity of algorithmic specified complexity is conserved in the process when ASC is measured differently for the output than for the input. In fact, the ASC measure applied to the output is customized to the process.

Eric Holloway will be sorely tempted to seize upon parts of this vague recap, and twist them to suit his purposes. Please keep it in mind that I supplied the mathematical details in “The Old Switcheroo,” and that Eric wants nothing to do with them. In the following appendix, I repeat three simple questions that he has yet to answer. The questions make it impossible for him not to see the two fatal flaws described in the preceding paragraphs. In the thread where I first posed them, he thus far has responded only with diversionary tactics. I believe that everyone should understand that if Eric Holloway is operating in good faith, then he will answer the questions before launching into rhetoric.

Appendix: Questions for Nemati and Holloway

Question 1. Is your definition of algorithmic specified complexity precisely equivalent to the definition given by Ewert, Dembski, and Marks in “Algorithmic Specified Complexity,”

(A)   \[ASC(x, C, p) = -\!\log_2 p(x) - K(x|C), \]

even though you write I(x) in place of -\!\log_2 p(x)?

Question 2. The identity I(x) = ASC(x, C, p) + K(x|C) follows from your definition of algorithmic specified complexity. Is the following extension of your inequality (43) correct?

    \begin{align*} f\!ASC(x, C, p, f) & < I(x) = ASC(x, C, p) + K(x|C) \end{align*}

Question 3. You refer to the upper bound on fASC as “conservation of complexity for ASC,” so you evidently regard fASC as algorithmic specified complexity (ASC). I observe that

    \begin{align*} & f\!ASC(x, C, p, f) & & \\ & \quad = I(f(x)) - K(f(x)|C) & & \text{[definition]}\\ & \quad = -\!\log_2 \Pr[f(\mathcal{X}) = f(x)] - K(f(x)|C) & & \text{[by definition (39)]}\\ & \quad = -\!\log_2 p_f(f(x)) - K(f(x)|C) & & [\text{notation: }f(\mathcal{X}) \sim p_f] \\ & \quad = ASC(f(x), C, p_f), & & \text{[by definition (A)]} \end{align*}

where p_f denotes the probability distribution of the random variable f(\mathcal{X}). Have I correctly expressed fASC as algorithmic specified complexity?

It follows from the foregoing that your “conservation of complexity” is equivalent to

    \begin{align*} ASC(f(x), C, p_f) & < ASC(x, C, p) + K(x|C). \\ \end{align*}

As explained in “The Old Switcheroo,” it is absurd to change from one ASC measure to another, and speak of conservation.

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71 thoughts on “A nontechnical recap

  1. DNA_Jock:
    Well, since 1959. Math not your strong suit, I guess…
    But they make great pets, I hear…

    Great, so pretty soon then anyway?

    Essence Jock, essence.

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  2. J-Mac: But no matter how long I keep breeding the foxes, they will remain variations of foxes often with degraded genes for fur thickness etc.

    Actually, this attempt to be snide turns out to be entirely correct! Consider the first mammals (that is, possessing warm blood, hair, live birth etc.) ALL their descendants without exception are mammals. Now, mammals may have diverged from that ancestor substantially, but they all remain mammals. And this same thing holds (and evolutionary theory says it MUST hold) for every lineage. The descendants of sloths will always be sloths, even though at some hypothetical future era the sloths could diverge to the point where the relationship might not be obvious.

    And so foxes are still canines, and so are jackals which will remain jackals, and so are dogs, which remain dogs. Evolution starts with what it has, and produces variations, which produce yet more variations, endlessly. Creationists seem to be under the impression that evolution means some CURRENT species will somehow morph into an entirely different CURRENT species. The notion of never breaking out of a lineage remains a stumbling block to them. Wait a few hundred million years, and mammals will STILL be splitting into different species of mammals.

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  3. Flint:

    Creationists seem to be under the impression that evolution means some CURRENT species will somehow morph into an entirely different CURRENT species.

    Or an intermediate like the crocoduck.

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  4. DNA_Jock: Well, since 1959. Math not your strong suit, I guess…

    And googling isn’t yours, is it, I guess? 🤣
    Even if you googled it, geography is probably your another obstacle…😉

    “Silver foxes in Russian fur farms are of North American stock, and are selectively bred in order to remove as much brown from the fur as possible, as the presence of brown fur lowers the pelt’s value.[5] Estonia began farming silver foxes in 1924, after receiving 2,500 foundation specimens from Norway to Mustajõe farm. The numbers of Estonian silver fox farms steadily increased in the following decades. During the Soviet period, the silver fox industry boomed due to government subsidies and a focus on selectively breeding foxes for greater fertility than fur quality.[14]”

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silver_fox_(animal)

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  5. Flint: And so foxes are still canines, and so are jackals which will remain jackals, and so are dogs, which remain dogs. Evolution starts with what it has, and produces variations, which produce yet more variations, endlessly. Creationists seem to be under the impression that evolution means some CURRENT species will somehow morph into an entirely different CURRENT species. The notion of never breaking out of a lineage remains a stumbling block to them. Wait a few hundred million years, and mammals will STILL be splitting into different species of mammals.

    What? You gotta be joking?!
    Can someone help flint with the very basics of the ancestry, please?
    Don’t ask DNA_JOCK how to Google! Oh, no! He has bad days and not so bad…

    BTW: Is there some kind of a holiday today in North America I’m not aware of? Many seem to be under the influence or hangover…

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  6. phoodoo: Great, so pretty soon then anyway?

    Essence Jock, essence.

    In Canada, they have been breeding foxes since 1850 on record.
    Russians have been farming and breeding animals for fur probably since 1600. No new genus or kinds have ever been reported. If one has ever been produced, whoever accomplished it would become rich and famous…

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  7. J-Mac: What? You gotta be joking?!

    Not that I know of.

    Can someone help flint with the very basics of the ancestry, please?
    Don’t ask DNA_JOCK how to Google!Oh, no! He has bad days and not so bad…

    BTW: Is there some kind of a holiday today in North America I’m not aware of? Many seem to be under the influence or hangover…

    I don’t think I wrote anything even very interesting, much less controversial. Think of each lineage as a branch (or some level of sub-branch) of a tree. Every descendent branch of any given sub-branch is going to have that sub-branch as an ancestor. So if a branch called “fox” branches from the canine branch, EVERY branch off that one later will be a fox. This is elementary. So what is your problem?

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  8. J-Mac: In Canada,they have been breeding foxes since 1850 on record.
    Russians have been farming and breeding animals for fur probably since 1600. No new genus or kindshave ever been reported. If one has ever been produced, whoever accomplished it would become rich and famous…

    How many generations would you estimate might be required to produce another genus or two? For simplicity, let’s say we have a new genus if more than half the biologists specializing in canines agree. So can you produce some reasonable number of generations, given careful breeding programs?

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  9. Flint: Wait a few hundred million years, and mammals will STILL be splitting into different species of mammals.

    What makes you think we haven’t already waited a few hundred million years? When does the waiting start, today?

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  10. phoodoo: What makes you think we haven’t already waited a few hundred million years?When does the waiting start, today?

    We have ‘waited’, and they have split. As far as we can tell from the evidence, that is. But j-mac (and you, I’m guessing) think that a few hundred years of active observation is enough to definitively rule out the possibility it could happen in any time frame. That seems a tad hasty. Think like an Ent.

    Populations exist at all levels of separation, as if there is a continuum. Why is that, if there isn’t?

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  11. phoodoo: What makes you think we haven’t already waited a few hundred million years?When does the waiting start, today?

    ??? The splitting started after modern mammals first appeared, and has continued for a hundred million years (STILL producing mammals), and in another 100 million years, mammals will be still splitting, and all of these splits will produce more mammals.

    But I can see I didn’t phrase things very well. I meant to say that IF you could wait that long, you would have seen mammals splitting into different mammals, which would still be happening eons from now.

    Incidentally, I asked j-mac if he would be so polite as to explain the factual basis for his insults, and I notice he suddenly lost all interest. A recurring pattern on this forum.

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  12. Flint: Incidentally, I asked j-mac if he would be so polite as to explain the factual basis for his insults, and I notice he suddenly lost all interest. A recurring pattern on this forum.

    Indeed.

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  13. phoodoo: What makes you think we haven’t already waited a few hundred million years?

    Hey if you have evidence that Homo sapiens were around 200 million years ago to record evolutionary change, by all means bring it here. Better yet, describe it in a paper and publish it in a reputable journal. Say where you found it so others can go investigate it for themselves.

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  14. Allan Miller: We have ‘waited’, and they have split.

    I don’t think that, I am asking you? You said we waited all these million years, and now we can see the result, splitting. So we get these outcome, the result of a slow splitting, which now has finally culminated in a split, two new entities, humans and chimps. We also had this same split, when some mammals came down from trees and split from their tree dwellers. We also had this split where these tree dwellers who split, then started to walk on two legs and split from their other mammals. And we also had these other splits where some cows were going into water and some weren’t and those cows that were goining into water were much doing much better reproductively then their friends who weren’t. And the mammals who were hanging out on the ground were doing much better than their friends who refused to come down. And the ones who were walking around on their back legs starting doing much better than their friends who stuck to their four legs method. And then their was this other group of two legged walkers, who looked just like their friends on two legs, but the difference between them was that they had a bigger head, but with smaller teeth. The ones with bigger heads and smaller teeth didn’t really like the ones with smaller heads and bigger teeth, so they also did better reproductively.

    And all these things are going on, and a million other events similar to these, and if you were in the middle of it, the idea is that you would never know you were in the middle of it-because you wouldn’t be able to see, for some reason, that there existed these two groups that looked similar, but one was in the trees and one wasn’t. And you also wouldn’t be able to see that there were these two cows that looked similar, but one went into the water more and one didn’t, and also one started to get a blow hole on their backs, and some didn’t.

    And you would be able to see that there were these two kinds of walking creatures on two legs, only some had small heads and big teeth, and others had big heads and small teeth and they didn’t like each other that much. But the small teeth kind seemed to mate better.

    This and all these other weird things were happening that you can’t see for some reason, and this same thing is happening now, and we just can’t see it.

    So we already have waited, we just can’t see it.

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  15. phoodoo,

    I don’t think that, I’m asking you… [then phoodoo goes off on one…]

    You’re putting waaaay too much effort into pretending you don’t get it after saying you do. I mean, if you ‘don’t think that’, and I don’t either… 🤣

    If you’re asking me, I’d have to say no, splitting hasn’t stopped. We see a continuum of genetic divergence, on both sides of the interbreeding barrier that demarcates biological species, in various populations. If that process of splitting occurs, we would expect to see a continuum of genetic divergence around those nodes, among various populations at various stages of the process. The fact that we do is consistent with the process being in operation even today, so I see no reason to reject it.

    If there were a historic process of splitting, we would expect to see evidence of common ancestry even among non-interbreeding species – that same evidence which even you would probably accept as valid within a population. We do.

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  16. So basically we(modern humans) have just about arrived on the scene, in geological terms, and we’re trying to figure out how we and other species got here.

    We have a large body of evidence that has been collected over a couple of centuries, such as the geographical and chronostratigraphical distribution of fossils, and of living species, that cries out for an explanation. Why are the first (oldest) single-cell-fossils always unambigously older than the first multi-cell-fossils? Why are the oldest soft bodied organisms always unambigously older than fossils of organisms with shells or skeletons? Why are the oldest fossil fish-like organisms always unambigously older than the oldest fossils with legs? And so on. Why do we find that more more similar appearing organisms, yet which are distinct species that can’t interbreed, are generally always found on islands closer to each other, than more distantly related or more dissimilar species? Does this say something about their relatedness in the same way more closely related family members appear more alike?

    Eventually people like Charles Darwin proposes that a really good explanation for this evidence from paleontologi and biogeography is a long history of change stretching very far into the past. With organisms changing over time, speciating and so on. He gives a large body of arguments drawn from observations of organisms living in the present, from experiments with animal breeders and hybridization and so on.
    And then he suggests the mechanisms of change involves natural selection among variants. He draws on work with selective breeding and from his observations of the competition and struggle for live in natural populations to show evidence that organisms are actually malleable on long timescales. Populations of reproducing organisms slowly and gradually change in behavior and morphology over generations in response to selection among variants.

    Finally he offers an explanation for why organisms lend themselves so well to the Linnean classification system: They share common descent in a great family tree.

    Over a century after this the mechanism of inheritance was finally worked out. Just how do organisms pass on their traits to their offspring? There are certain polymer molecules involved(directly pictured by atomic force microscopy in my profile pic). The traits are encoded in a molecule that lends itself to incremental small changes by mutations. DNA bases can be changed, rearranged, duplicated, deleted. This leads immediately to a prediction: If Darwin’s theory of common descent is correct, this should be reflected in a recapitulation essentially the same system of taxnomical classification as alighted upon by Linnaeaus and explained by Darwin. The field of molecular paleontology is essentially established, and the single greatest confirmed prediction of the reality of macro-evolution and common descent it is realistic to imagine you could have, is furnished. The molecular trees agrees with the fossil and extant anatomical trees to an exceptional level of significance. The only sensible explanation for this incredible fact, is that all species evolved over incredibly long periods of descent with modification, and we all share common ancestry.

    It is one of the most astounding achievements of modern science. Finally, one of the really big questions having puzzled our species for it’s entire existence is answered with high confidence: Where did we come from? We evolved.

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  17. Rumraket:
    It is one of the most astounding achievements of modern science. Finally, one of the really big questions having puzzled our species for it’s (sic) entire existence is answered with high confidence: Where did we come from? We evolved.

    But alas, you have not answered this question with confidence as high as phoodoo’s, because yours is based on evidence, logic, probabilities, and such. And phoodoo’s is based on pure unquestionable definition, and you can’t get any more confident than that.

    There is a world of difference between confidence and correctness. Phoodoo is more confident that evolution is fiction, than you could ever be that evolution is correct. As an old aphorism has it, you can be absolutely certain or you can be probably correct, but you can’t be both.

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