From arithmetic, geometry and kinematics through mechanics to life.

Steiner’s first lecture of the First Scientific Lecture-Course, the so called, ‘Light course’, given in Stuttgart, on the 23rd December 1919, can be read here and it can be listened to here

He explains how the natural scientists of his day proceeded. They were interested in categorising, looking for causes behind phenomena, and observing phenomena to arrive at the ‘laws’ of nature. Goethe did not proceed in this way. He was not interested in looking for and speculating about unknown causes or categorisation. He looked at nature and observed how it was forever changing and studied this metamorphosis in great detail. He wished to stay within the observable to ask what it could tell him without speculating about any laws or hidden world behind the one observed.

The natural science are forever looking for pointwise forces to explain life. But, according to Steiner, life cannot be explained in this way. Life is formed out of the universal peripheral forces. These forces are not the same as the mechanical pointwise forces which are open to measurement. Steiner explains it thus:

Say you were studying the play of forces in an animal or vegetable embryo or germ-cell; with this method you would never find your way. No doubt it seems an ultimate ideal to the Science of today, to understand even organic phenomena in terms of potentials, of centric forces of some kind. It will be the dawn of a new world-conception in this realm when it is recognized that the thing cannot be done in this way, Phenomena in which Life is working can never be understood in terms of centric forces. Why, in effect, — why not? Diagrammatically, let us here imagine that we are setting out to study transient, living phenomena of Nature in terms of Physics. We look for centres, — to study the potential effects that may go out from such centres. Suppose we find the effect. If I now calculate the potentials, say for the three points a, b and c, I find that a will work thus and thus on A, B and C, or c on A’, B’ and C’; and so on. I should thus get a notion of how the integral effects will be, in a certain sphere, subject to the potentials of such and such centric forces. Yet in this way I could never explain any process involving Life. In effect, the forces that are essential to a living thing have no potential; they are not centric forces. If at a given point d you tried to trace the physical effects due to the influences of a, b and c, you would indeed be referring to the effects to centric forces, and you could do so. But if you want to study the effects of Life you can never do this. For these effects, there are no centres such as a or b or c. Here you will only take the right direction with your thinking when you speak thus: Say that at d there is something alive. I look for the forces to which the life is subject. I shall not find them in a, nor in b, nor in c, nor when I go still farther out. I only find them when as it were I go to the very ends of the world — and, what is more, to the entire circumference at once. Taking my start from d, I should have to go to the outermost ends of the Universe and imagine forces to the working inward from the spherical circumference from all sides, forces which in their interplay unite in d. It is the very opposite of the centric forces with their potentials. How to calculate a potential for what works inward from all sides, from the infinitudes of space? In the attempt, I should have to dismember the forces; one total force would have to be divided into ever smaller portions. Then I should get nearer and nearer the edge of the World: — the force would be completely sundered, and so would all my calculation. Here in effect it is not centric forces; it is cosmic, universal forces that are at work. Here, calculation ceases.

This lecture was given just over a century ago and so the terminology is a bit dated and science has made a vast amount of progress since then, but his points still stand.
The difference between Goethe’s scientific method and the standard methods of natural science is the same difference that separates the practice of Euclidean geometry from that of projective geometry. In the former, lengths and angles are measured and calculated, in the latter there are no measurements as such, it is concerned with the mobility and transformation of form as it is expressed between point and plane.

Goethe takes natural science beyond its self-imposed limits just as projective geometry takes Euclidean geometry beyond its limits.

Feel free to read or listen to the lecture linked to above and comment as you see fit.

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347 thoughts on “From arithmetic, geometry and kinematics through mechanics to life.

  1. Alan Fox:

    CharlieM: You speak about light energy, do you believe there is such a thing as dark energy?

    Dark energy is a good example. Does it exist? Is the fact the Universe is expanding at an accelerating rate enough to demonstrate that dark energy is real? Could there turn out to be another, better explanation? Above my pay grade

    Why do you think they refer to this illusive energy as “dark” energy?

    If you are looking for the ultimate example of polarity what about matter and anti-matter? The brilliant anti-religion, anti-philosophy, genius, Paul Dirac, because of his love for the beauty to be found in mathematics, reasoned from the equations that there should be matching pairs of fundamental “particles”. And what could be more polar than electron/positron pairs?

    Dirac said:

    Once the basic ideas of projective geometry were understood by mathematicians, it completely superseded Euclidean geometry. When one has learned projective geometry, one doesn’t want to go back to the clumsy Euclidean ways anymore.

    I don’t want to disappoint you, so to wax lyrical: If projective geometry is a classic movie then Euclidean geometry is its advertising poster on the wall of the cinema.

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  2. Alan Fox: DNA_Jock: There’s a linguistic equivalence between light and darkness that confuses many into thinking that there is some sort of physical equivalence.

    Alan: This is exactly my point put more eloquently, Corneel.

    I’d agree with that. I just objected to you labeling all concepts without physical counterparts “imaginary”. Just like “rainbows” or “the government” are not imaginary, neither is “darkness”.

    Alan Fox: “Switch the light on” works much better in English than “switch on the absence of darkness”!

    You have no romance in your soul, Alan Fox. “The darkness was dispelled” sounds much better than “somebody switched the light on”

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  3. CharlieM: All concepts are not equal in complexity and ease of understanding. Do you think that the concepts “triangle” and “quantum field” are on a par?

    And now I wonder what the smallest unit of understanding quantum theory is.

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  4. Corneel: I just objected to you labeling all concepts without physical counterparts “imaginary”. Just like “rainbows” or “the government” are not imaginary, neither is “darkness”.

    Well, I dunno. Rainbows, without question, are physical phenomena, well understood. Governments are an example of synecdoche. Where is the government: the building, the people in it, just those with power to make decisions, all of that? Darkness? It can only be defined negatively. I don’t see a coherent set here.

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  5. Corneel: Whatever you do, DO NOT reply with “romance is imaginary”.

    Sure it’s real. Emotions are real, and physical, as my wife has demonstrated on occasion.

    +1
  6. Just thought, due to weather, lockdown, etc. I’ve been binge-watching The Bridge (Bron/Broen). That may have affected my judgement.

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  7. Kantian Naturalist:

    CharlieM:
    What do you know about quantum fields apart from mathematics?

    Quantum fields can be described with mathematics, but they aren’t purely mathematical structures. The structures of pure mathematics, like sets and groups, don’t have any causal powers. Quantum fields do. (In fact, it is very likely that our best scientific explanation of what a causal power is is that it is a quantum field.)

    And “particles” such as electrons are seen as focal points of these fields. The particle is the point and the field is the periphery. The field cannot be excluded from the fundamental nature of these so called particles..

    You mean I could not acquire the concept of a dodecahedron without first communicating to other people what I think I know about dodecahedrons?

    Of course not — my point was that acquiring a concept and communicating with other people are a dialectical or interactive process, with neither having priority over the other.

    So do you think concepts are objective, subjective or neither?

    I am talking about modern science which is largely based on, and developed from materialistic reductionism. Matter has been subject to division to the smallest possible parts in the search for its fundamental nature.

    I don’t think that’s an accurate description of modern science. Materialism and reductionism have been controversial from the beginning of the Scientific Revolution, and while the search for the most fundamental constituents of physical objects is indeed one research program in physics, it doesn’t describe the whole of physics, and certainly not the whole of science.

    If you look at the timeline of fundamental physics in Wikipedia, last century and into the 21st century is dominated by the investigation of sub-atomic fundamental “particles”. These days biology is dominated by genetic research. The human genome project being a prime example in which people were lead to believe that once our genetic makeup was categorised then we would understand how a human being was made.

    True he wasn’t looking for models which would represent nature, he was looking at life. He preferred to concentrate on living nature rather than lifeless models.

    Then he just was not doing science at all. What he was doing was a good thing but it’s not science.

    He was doing what is now termed Goethean science.

    I understand that, but I think the concept of science should be much broader than it is usually taken to be.

    If you insist on using words in your own ways, by all means — but then don’t complain when no one understands you.

    But it’s not just my own way. I had nothing to do with the Wikipedia entry, Goethean science.

    It is becoming more apparent that the people doing the experiments cannot be totally excluded from the objects under examination and test. They must be factored in.

    Certainly, but the way to do scientifically is by incorporating that information into the testable model that we’re constructing and evaluating.

    That is certainly one way to do science.

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  8. Alan Fox:

    CharlieM: Are measuring, numbering and weighing necessities of science?

    The first step is poking a metaphorical finger (especially important to use only a metaphorical finger when pointing at venomous snakes) at some phenomenon and thinking “that’s interesting”. The rest follows.

    Yes, researchers measure, number and weigh when practicing conventional natural science, but not when practicing Goethean science.

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  9. Alan Fox:

    CharlieM: Do fundamentals necessarily reside in the smallest parts such as sub-atomic particles and genes?

    Are we rendered human by our molecules and their energies? Yes. Is that reductionist? No. We emerge.

    The molecules and their energies become part of a human being because of processes taking place within the organism as a whole. Molecules come and go during the processes of growth and degradation, but the organism remains whole and viable throughout its existence.

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  10. CharlieM: These days biology is dominated by genetic research.

    Wrong. “Genetic research” has a fairly specific meaning, and very few people do it. Many biology researchers use genetic techniques as tools during the course of their research. They are not doing “genetics research”. [I may yet be goaded into channeling Mark Ptashne’s ‘imagine a world with no Frenchmen’ speech]
    Of course, I recognize that Charlie may have his own peculiar definition of “genetics research” and of “is dominated by”, for that matter. Perhaps even of “biology”, given his esoteric definition of “science”…

    The human genome project being a prime example in which people were lead to believe that once our genetic makeup was categorised then we would understand how a human being was made.

    Thank you for using that circumlocution : ‘people were lead to believe’ . Every time I see someone spouting off about how the HGP has underdelivered on its promise, it turns out that the promises they bought into were all produced by breathless journalists, and the occasional politician. That’s on them.
    Scientists, guys like John Sulston and Eric Lander, were always quite clear about the utility of the HGP, and the importance of the mouse, nematode, and cress genome projects.
    Here’s Lander on the subject:

    Everything that gets made in your body, whether it’s, you know, carotene in your hair or collagen in your skin or hemoglobin in your blood, is specified by an instruction here. This is basically a parts list. Blueprints and all these fancy — it’s just a parts list. It’s a parts list with a lot of parts.

    If you take an airplane, a Boeing 777, I think it has like 100,000 parts. If I gave you a parts list for the Boeing 777, in one sense you’d know a lot. You’d know 100,000 components that have got to be there, screws and wires and the rudders and things like that. On the other hand, I bet you wouldn’t know how to put it together. And I bet you wouldn’t know why it flies.

    Well, we’re in the same boat. We now have a parts list. That’s what the Human Genome Project is about is getting a parts list. If you want to understand the plane, you have to have the parts list, but that’s not enough to understand why it flies. Of course, you’d be crazy not to start with the parts list. So we figured that for the next century of medical work, we’d better get the parts list and so everybody rolled up their sleeves and decided we could work together and get a parts list.

    The story that scientists believed that {knowing the sequence would instantly tell us how everything worked} is a fiction. Way before anybody even suggested genome sequencing, scientists already had had the disconcerting experience of sequencing a gene and going “Huh! What the hell does this do?”

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  11. Alan Fox: Darkness? It can only be defined negatively. I don’t see a coherent set here.

    Then you may be the only true materialist at TSZ. Personally, I do not see how something being defined negatively means it only exists in the imagination.

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  12. CharlieM: If you look at the timeline of fundamental physics in Wikipedia, last century and into the 21st century is dominated by the investigation of sub-atomic fundamental “particles”.

    I see quite a few entries with “cosmos”, “universe” and celestial objects, but I guess the real holist only sees the bigger picture.

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  13. Corneel: Then you may be the only true materialist at TSZ.

    No such thing as truth.

    Personally, I do not see how something being defined negatively means it only exists in the imagination.

    Perhaps we disagree on what “existence” means. I think we are entering the realm of ontology. Maybe KN will weigh in.

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  14. Parmenides maintained that it is self-defeating to say that something does not exist. The linguistic rendering of this insight is the problem of negative existentials: ‘Atlantis does not exist’ is about Atlantis. A statement can be about something only if that something exists. No relation without relata! Therefore, ‘Atlantis does not exist’ cannot be true. Parmenides and his disciples elaborated conceptual difficulties with negation into an incredible metaphysical monolith.
    From an article in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

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  15. Epicurus saw things differently, though.

    Beliefs about whether sensations correspond to an actually existing thing must be tested against knowledge of the world, as informed by Epicurean theory.

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  16. Alan Fox:

    CharlieM: Why are groups of animals divided into species because of the most meagre differences?

    Whoever wrote Genesis (or the bit about kinds) is an early record of how humans categorise other species. Evolutionary biology is a different approach in modelling what we observe. Apparently small differences in phenotype can disguise distant genetic relationships and vice versa. The basic concept of a breeding population as a species is pretty simple.

    I believe that “kinds” in Genesis is different to our present categorisation of species. In my opinion it is more like what Goethe would term the “typus”. It is a higher category from which present day organisms have obtained their essential form. Present day species are a further differentiation which allowed for the eventual development of a physical organism that is capable of a high level of individuality and self determination. The process of evolution has lead up to this position correlating to the sixth day of creation in Genesis.

    I believe that the story of the Garden of Eden is meat to depict a time before the condensation of the human into dense physical matter. Prior to this the human would have been thought of as belonging more to the realm of the Elohim.

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  17. Alan Fox:

    CharlieM: If there was evidence that planetary motions correlated to earthly events and processes would you consider that as science?

    If your granny had balls would she be your grandad? And, no, seriously. It might be the start of a scientific study to establish whether phenomenon A were dependent on phenomenon B. There is a correlation between the number of pirates and global warming, apparently.

    If my granny had balls I would not be here.

    I’m not sure what you chart has to do with reality. But apart from that, in what way is there a correlation between the figures shown? I remember a correlation Steiner mentioned between the movement of the hands of a clock and the rotation of the earth. Nobody would suggest that the movement of the earth caused the hands of a clock to move.

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  18. CharlieM: I believe that “kinds” in Genesis is different to our present categorisation of species. In my opinion it is more like what Goethe would term the “typus”. It is a higher category from which present day organisms have obtained their essential form. Present day species are a further differentiation which allowed for the eventual development of a physical organism that is capable of a high level of individuality and self determination. The process of evolution has lead up to this position correlating to the sixth day of creation in Genesis.

    The process of biological evolution is a tree, not a ladder. Genesis is not even internally consistent.

    I believe that the story of the Garden of Eden is mea[n]t to depict a time before the condensation of the human into dense physical matter. Prior to this the human would have been thought of as belonging more to the realm of the Elohim.

    One god, two names? How does that work?

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  19. CharlieM: I’m not sure what you chart has to do with reality.

    It is meant to show that correlation does not necessarily indicate causality.

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  20. DNA_Jock: Everything that gets made in your body, whether it’s, you know, carotene in your hair or collagen in your skin or hemoglobin in your blood, is specified by an instruction here. This is basically a parts list. Blueprints and all these fancy — it’s just a parts list. It’s a parts list with a lot of parts.

    OMG, the guy doesn’t know the difference between a parts list, a blueprint, and an instruction manual. You’re sure you want to stand by that mess? And, of course, he doesn’t know the full extent of what the DNA does.

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  21. Nonlin.org: And, of course, he doesn’t know the full extent of what the DNA does.

    Who does? I’m guessing DNA_Jock knows a fair amount about how DNA functions in gene sequences as a storage and replication medium for proteins and RNAs. And that would be a lot lore than me and, without a doubt, a great deal more than you

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  22. Nonlin.org: OMG, the guy doesn’t know the difference between a parts list, a blueprint, and an instruction manual. You’re sure you want to stand by that mess? And, of course, he doesn’t know the full extent of what the DNA does.

    It’s an interview transcript, kiddo. He’s actually contrasting a parts list with a blueprint.
    And you, nonlin.org, are telling us that Eric Lander doesn’t know “the full extent of what the DNA does”.
    This is comedy gold!

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  23. DNA_Jock: And you, nonlin.org, are telling us that Eric Lander doesn’t know “the full extent of what the DNA does”.

    I guess he forgot to mention that DNA is also a clockwork cogwheel. Use analogies at your own peril!

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  24. “DNA is commonly referred to in textbooks of molecular biology as the “blueprint” for an organism. I think it is better not to call it a blueprint. I would rather call it a recipe or it is a bit like a computer program.

    The difference between a blueprint and a recipe is that a blueprint is reversable, and a recipe is not. If you have a house and you have lost the blueprint you can reconstruct the blueprint by taking measurements, but if you have got a well prepared dish in a great restaurant you may enjoy the dish and you may dissect it and look at it in every detail but you cannot reconstruct the recipe.”

    Richard Dawkins

    I’m sure he’s been making this point since the eighties and I remember reading it first in either Selfish Gene or Blind Watchmaker.

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  25. Kantian Naturalist:

    CharlieM: Are measuring, numbering and weighing necessities of science?

    Probably not, but it’s difficult to gather data without them.

    And who would deny that orthodox natural science produces vast amounts of data? The strength of the physical sciences is precisely that they deals with numerical relationships. But should we restrict science to numerical relationships? I am far from advocating the abandonment of this type of science. What I am saying is that science should be extended to include other methods of gaining knowledge of the perceived world.

    And this is why I keep plugging projective geometry. It is a tool which has no interest in measurement but it can tell us a great deal about spatial reality.

    Do fundamentals necessarily reside in the smallest parts such as sub-atomic particles and genes?

    Ladyman and Ross (Every Thing Must Go) rocked my world when it comes to “fundamental physics.” They argue that fundamental physics is defined entirely in methodological terms: a theory belongs to fundamental physics if any measurement taken anywhere in all of time and space could confirm or disconfirm a hypothesis entailed by that theory.

    Nothing in there about smallnesss — it’s about the fact that any measurement taken anywhere in all of cosmic history could count for or against a hypothesis of quantum mechanics or general relativity, whereas when it comes to theories of biology or economics, there are tiny slivers of the universe at which the relevant measurements could be taken (namely, those parts of the universe that include organisms or markets).

    After watching the video of a discussion on this book between Ladyman and Tallis, it would seem that Ladyman believes quantum physics to be in some way fundamental. Tallis comments that Ladyman gives quantum mechanics some sort of primacy and Ladyman does not challenge that statement.

    In the book that rocked your world, according to Ladyman and Ross, earth, water, air, and fire; the previous fundamental constituents of matter have been replaced by:

    tiny, indivisible, ultimate particles-first early modern corpuscles, then atoms, then systems of subatomic particles still often conceived in popular imagination as sub-microscopic solar systems whose ‘stars’ and ‘orbiting planets’ are supposedly the new ultimate constituents from which everything is composed.

    When it comes down to it my observations are regarding modern science and not what Ladyman or Tallis believe. I enjoyed watching the discussion and I thought that both of them made some sesnsible, thought provoking comments. The idea that there are no ‘things’ but only relational entities is one point that we could agree on.

    Why are groups of animals divided into species because of the most meagre differences?

    That’s not why animals are divided into species: animals (and plants, fungi, etc.) are divided into species based on reproductive success within a population.

    But they are still divided up in order to categorise them. And because they are so categorised then convergent evolution must be down purely to the environment. It allows for no other explanation.

    If there was evidence that planetary motions correlated to earthly events and processes would you consider that as science?

    If there were evidence that confirmed a model of the causal influences between planetary motions and earthly events, which demonstrated those influences were wholly independent of people’s beliefs, biases, and expectations, then yes, it would count as a scientific theory.

    I’m not talking about causal influences, I am talking about correlations. For instance regarding fractals, there is no causal influences between the levels but there is an underlying unity.

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  26. Alan Fox to Corneel:

    Corneel: I just objected to you labeling all concepts without physical counterparts “imaginary”. Just like “rainbows” or “the government” are not imaginary, neither is “darkness”.

    Well, I dunno. Rainbows, without question, are physical phenomena, well understood. Governments are an example of synecdoche. Where is the government: the building, the people in it, just those with power to make decisions, all of that? Darkness? It can only be defined negatively. I don’t see a coherent set here.

    In pure light we would be totally blind, in pure darkness we would be totally blind. Sight is only possible in an area between them both.

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  27. CharlieM: In pure light we would be totally blind, in pure darkness we would be totally blind. Sight is only possible in an area between them both.

    I wonder what you mean by “pure light”. Humans only see certain wavelengths of light (other species have receptors reacting to a broader spectrum and some have additional photoreceptors to the three colour receptors humans have) and we lose colour vision in low light. We are dazzled by bright, direct sunlight and bright enough light will cause physical damage.

    Are you trying to make a point about human visual acuity or is this another bad analogy?

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  28. Corneel: And now I wonder what the smallest unit of understanding quantum theory is.

    “forget understanding, just note how well the math works at making predictions!”

    -Some physicists “whose name I’d rather not remember.”

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  29. CharlieM: In the book that rocked your world, according to Ladyman and Ross, earth, water, air, and fire; the previous fundamental constituents of matter have been replaced by:

    tiny, indivisible, ultimate particles-first early modern corpuscles, then atoms, then systems of subatomic particles still often conceived in popular imagination as sub-microscopic solar systems whose ‘stars’ and ‘orbiting planets’ are supposedly the new ultimate constituents from which everything is composed.

    When it comes down to it my observations are regarding modern science and not what Ladyman or Tallis believe

    I don’t know if you picked up on this, but the bit you quoted “tiny, indivisible, ultimate particles . . . from which everything is composed” is exactly the view that Ladyman and Ross think we must reject if we are to take the science seriously.

    CharlieM: But they are still divided up in order to categorise them. And because they are so categorised then convergent evolution must be down purely to the environment. It allows for no other explanation.

    I don’t see how this follows. Convergent evolution can be explained in lots of ways, including the idea that there are developmental constraints in how animals respond to the laws of physics at work in their environments. There are good reasons why icthyosaurs and dolphins look so similar — because there are so only many ways to swim. Ankylosaurs and glyptodonts are another good example of convergent evolution.

    CharlieM: I’m not talking about causal influences, I am talking about correlations. For instance regarding fractals, there is no causal influences between the levels but there is an underlying unity.

    Fractals are structures of pure mathematics, so there’s no possibility of causal influences at all.

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  30. Alan Fox: Who does?

    He that speaks up has an obligation to know what he’s saying. Don’t you think?

    DNA_Jock: It’s an interview transcript, kiddo. He’s actually contrasting a parts list with a blueprint.

    Oh, so anything goes in interviews? Good to know. Btw, would you mind answering the question? Do you stand by?

    DNA_Jock: And you, nonlin.org, are telling us that Eric Lander doesn’t know “the full extent of what the DNA does”.

    I’d go further and say he doesn’t even know the parts he comments on. And that is a no-no.

    And The Jock is voting for “parts list” or “blueprint”? Hilarious either way.

    Corneel: I guess he forgot to mention that DNA is also a clockwork cogwheel.

    Whohe?

    Alan Fox: The difference between a blueprint and a recipe is that a blueprint is reversable, and a recipe is not.

    Dawkins is another clueless clown. “Reversible” must means you can turn over the paper. Haha. Over to you, The Jock. Enlighten us.

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  31. Nonlin.org to Alan:
    He that speaks up has an obligation to know what he’s saying. Don’t you think?

    Reading for comprehension Nonlin. Alan answered only the part about knowing “the full extent of what DNA does.” Nobody knows the full extent of many things. There might always be something we’re missing, we haven’t witnessed, etc. That doesn’t mean that Lander didn’t know what he was talking about at all. If you weren’t such an illiterate, you could have saved the embarrassment of complaining about an obvious point.

    Nonlin.org to AND_Jock:
    Oh, so anything goes in interviews? Good to know. Btw, would you mind answering the question? Do you stand by?

    DNA_Jock is telling you that you missed what the transcript was about. That you didn’t read it properly. Yet, all you could see was “it’s an interview”, further demonstrating that you’re not very good at reading for comprehension.

    Nonlin.org to DNA_Jock:
    I’d go further and say he doesn’t even know the parts he comments on. And that is a no-no.

    Given your inability to read for comprehension, I’d go further and claim that your opinions against what an expert might say are inconsequential and profoundly misinformed.

    Nonlin.org to DNA_Jock:
    And The Jock is voting for “parts list” or “blueprint”? Hilarious either way.

    Metaphors are often used to try and convey some understanding about some phenomena for which direct explanations might be lost for an audience. Thus, they’re bound to have limitations, some more than others. that doesn’t make them any more hilarious than your proclivity to opinionate with arrogance from your position of profound ignorance.

    Nonlin.org to Alan:
    Dawkins is another clueless clown. “Reversible” must means you can turn over the paper. Haha. Over to you, The Jock. Enlighten us.

    Again, reading for comprehension Nonlin, the meaning of reversible was right there after what you quoted. Look:

    Alan Fox:
    The difference between a blueprint and a recipe is that a blueprint is reversable, and a recipe is not. If you have a house and you have lost the blueprint you can reconstruct the blueprint by taking measurements, but if you have got a well prepared dish in a great restaurant you may enjoy the dish and you may dissect it and look at it in every detail but you cannot reconstruct the recipe.”

    It’s hilarious to see you missing something that’s right there. Ironically enough, that makes you a clueless clown.

    Learn to read Nonlin. It might save you a lot of embarrassment.

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  32. Nonlin.org: Alan Fox: Who does?

    He that speaks up has an obligation to know what he’s saying. Don’t you think?

    As Entropy points out, my question was rhetorical, “Nobody knows the full extent of many things.” There is much scientists don’t know fully about how DNA sequences result in the replication of organisms. That doesn’t prevent us from already knowing a great deal and carrying on investigating to find out more.

    Nothing prevents you except your own fear from finding out more, too.

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  33. Nonlin.org: He that speaks up has an obligation to know what he’s saying. Don’t you think?

    I agree. I can think of no better demonstration of this fact than your contributions here.

    DNA_Jock: It’s an interview transcript, kiddo. He’s actually contrasting a parts list with a blueprint.

    Oh, so anything goes in interviews? Good to know. Btw, would you mind answering the question? Do you stand by?

    As already noted, the key word here is “transcript”. If you had watched the actual interview, you would realize that Lander was drawing a distinction between a ‘parts list’ and a ‘blueprint’.
    And to answer your question, yes I ‘stand by’ Eric’s comments on this subject. The ‘parts list’ analogy is a good one. Eric is in my opinion the best science communicator alive, and a brilliant mathematician/scientist too!

    DNA_Jock: And you, nonlin.org, are telling us that Eric Lander doesn’t know “the full extent of what the DNA does”.

    I’d go further and say he doesn’t even know the parts he comments on. And that is a no-no.

    I need a new irony meter. The self-pwning is amazing.

    And The Jock is voting for “parts list” or “blueprint”? Hilarious either way.

    I vote for ‘parts list’. For the very specific scope of explaining to a lay audience why the genome sequence is not the end of genomics, but rather the beginning. Your hilarity is given the full weight it deserves 😀

    …Dawkins is another clueless clown. “Reversible” must means you can turn over the paper. Haha. Over to you, The Jock. Enlighten us.

    As I have said before, I’m not a fan of Dawkins. However, for understanding how the genome works, the cookbook analogy is the best one. Computer program, not so much.
    The genome is like a cookbook, a heavily cross-referenced one: lots of recipes refer to other recipes, as in “first, make a roux” or “make a ghee”.
    Before you even start trying to understand how genes work, I recommend watching a few seasons of The Great British Bake Off…

    +1
  34. Corneel: By “pure light” Charlie means light that is unsullied by matter or darkness.

    Wow, I’m impressed, Corneel. Did you remember the previous exchange? I confess, these days, I’m often struggling to remember what I had for breakfast.

    I see John Harshman was as baffled by that reply. as I am.

    J Harshman to CharlieM

    Darkness is the absence of light.* We see objects as dark when there are not many photons coming from that direction, often relative to other directions. Darkness does not generate a spectrum, whatever you think you mean by that. You are so hopelessly confused about nearly everything that it’s almost impossible to talk to you.
    *My emphasis

    +1
  35. Good grief, I participated in that thread. Not even a hint of déjà-vu on re-reading! Scary.

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  36. DNA_Jock:

    CharlieM: These days biology is dominated by genetic research.

    Wrong. “Genetic research” has a fairly specific meaning, and very few people do it. Many biology researchers use genetic techniques as tools during the course of their research. They are not doing “genetics research”. [I may yet be goaded into channeling Mark Ptashne’s ‘imagine a world with no Frenchmen’ speech]
    Of course, I recognize that Charlie may have his own peculiar definition of “genetics research” and of “is dominated by”, for that matter. Perhaps even of “biology”, given his esoteric definition of “science”…

    Fair enough. But when it comes to teaching biology genetics is taken to be fundamental.

    Visit MIT – Fundamentals of biology and the first thing you will see is an image of the double helix of DNA.

    Fundamentals of Biology focuses on the basic principles of biochemistry, molecular biology, genetics, and recombinant DNA.

    A video on The Fundamentals of Biology for Marine biology begins by explaining the constituent chemicals of life and teaching the students about the “building blocks of life”.

    The human genome project being a prime example in which people were lead to believe that once our genetic makeup was categorised then we would understand how a human being was made.

    Thank you for using that circumlocution : ‘people were lead to believe’ . Every time I see someone spouting off about how the HGP has underdelivered on its promise, it turns out that the promises they bought into were all produced by breathless journalists, and the occasional politician. That’s on them.
    Scientists, guys like John Sulston and Eric Lander, were always quite clear about the utility of the HGP, and the importance of the mouse, nematode, and cress genome projects.
    Here’s Lander on the subject:

    Everything that gets made in your body, whether it’s, you know, carotene in your hair or collagen in your skin or hemoglobin in your blood, is specified by an instruction here. This is basically a parts list. Blueprints and all these fancy — it’s just a parts list. It’s a parts list with a lot of parts.

    If you take an airplane, a Boeing 777, I think it has like 100,000 parts. If I gave you a parts list for the Boeing 777, in one sense you’d know a lot. You’d know 100,000 components that have got to be there, screws and wires and the rudders and things like that. On the other hand, I bet you wouldn’t know how to put it together. And I bet you wouldn’t know why it flies.

    Well, we’re in the same boat. We now have a parts list. That’s what the Human Genome Project is about is getting a parts list. If you want to understand the plane, you have to have the parts list, but that’s not enough to understand why it flies. Of course, you’d be crazy not to start with the parts list. So we figured that for the next century of medical work, we’d better get the parts list and so everybody rolled up their sleeves and decided we could work together and get a parts list.

    The story that scientists believed that {knowing the sequence would instantly tell us how everything worked} is a fiction. Way before anybody even suggested genome sequencing, scientists already had had the disconcerting experience of sequencing a gene and going “Huh! What the hell does this do?”

    Thanks for the link. That was an interesting read. Here is some further remarks from the interview:

    Krulwich: So starting with the same raw ingredients, the fruit fly goes… But the human, by somehow or other being able to arrange all the parts in many different ways, can produce melodies perhaps.

    Lander: Yes, although we’re not that good at hearing the melodies yet. One of the exciting things about reading the genome sequence now is we’re getting a glimpse at that complexity of the parts and how it’s a symphony rather than a simple tune. But it’s not that easy to just read the sheet music there and hear the symphony that’s coming out of it…

    Krulwich: But why? Isn’t there somewhere you look for “hair all over” or “big face?”

    Lander: Of course, somewhere it says, “Hair all over the body” in the chimp genome. But we don’t know how to read that. It’s there, but we don’t know how to know that somewhere it said, turn off the hair on most of the skin of the body. That’s our level of ignorance about this.

    This is what the next century is about. See, we have the text, for the first time. It’s incredibly exciting. We can see sentences and nouns and verbs all over the place. We haven’t got the plot from all that. We’ve just barely got the text, we know bits of the language. We don’t yet know, subtly, how — it’s embarrassing. I give you a cat and a dog, the two genomes. It wouldn’t be easy to tell which is which. We can’t tell.

    Lander: Evolution is a pretty mysterious process. It works by randomness and then selection…
    No committee of engineers getting together, no matter how smart, would have come up with a human being. And yet, evolution, by tinkering and getting it wrong most of the time, but occasionally right, came up with a human being. It’s a pretty awesome process. We don’t fully understand how it works. But it is really humbling to look at a genome and see what that slow and steady process of incremental improvement has wrought.

    Lander still believes it’s all in the genome and it’s just a matter of figuring out how all the genes interact with each other. He believes that the creativity, the story, the melody, lies within the genes.

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  37. Corneel:

    CharlieM: If you look at the timeline of fundamental physics in Wikipedia, last century and into the 21st century is dominated by the investigation of sub-atomic fundamental “particles”.

    I see quite a few entries with “cosmos”, “universe” and celestial objects, but I guess the real holist only sees the bigger picture.

    Yes and very often entities in the wider cosmos, celestial objects and such like, are explained in terms of the interactions of fundamental “particles”.

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  38. Alan Fox:
    Parmenides maintained that it is self-defeating to say that something does not exist. The linguistic rendering of this insight is the problem of negative existentials: ‘Atlantis does not exist’ is about Atlantis. A statement can be about something only if that something exists. No relation without relata! Therefore, ‘Atlantis does not exist’ cannot be true. Parmenides and his disciples elaborated conceptual difficulties with negation into an incredible metaphysical monolith.
    From an article in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

    Alan Fox:
    Epicurus saw things differently, though.

    Beliefs about whether sensations correspond to an actually existing thing must be tested against knowledge of the world, as informed by Epicurean theory.

    Here Steiner explains how a division between trust in the thought world over the sense world and trust in the sense world over the thought world was unified in Goethe’s understanding of nature.

    He said:

    this element of opposition shows how he felt in regard to the mode of conception proceeding from one aspect of Greek culture, which perceives a gulf between material and spiritual experience; it shows how, to him, sense experience and spiritual experience were united without any such gulf, in a world-picture communicated to him by reality. If we want to experience in conscious living thoughts what was in Goethe a more or less unconscious perception of the constitution of Western world-conceptions we must consider the following. At a certain crucial moment a mistrust in man’s organs of sense took possession of a Greek thinker. He began to think that these organs of sense do not impart the Truth to man but that they deceive him. He lost faith in the results of naive, direct observation. He discovered that thought about the true being of phenomena has not the same thing to say as experience. It is difficult to indicate the particular mind where this mistrust first gained a hold. We meet with it in the Eleatic School of philosophy, of which Xenophanes, born at Kolophon, 570 B.C., is the first representative. The personality of greatest significance in this School appears in Parmenides. Parmenides has asserted more emphatically than any of his predecessors that there are two sources of human knowledge. He has declared that sense impressions are illusory and deceptive and that man can only attain to knowledge of the True through pure thinking that takes no account of experience. As a result of this conception of thought and sense experience that arose with Parmenides many later philosophies came to be inoculated with an evolutionary disease, from which scientific culture still suffers to-day.

    For Parmenides truth cannot be gained from the ever changing flux of sense experience.

    In ancient Greek culture there was a transition from a belief where the true and the good had its unified source in the world of the Gods. Goodness and truth were one. Then came a time when they were seen as separate. As Steiner said:

    Here, side by side with the question: What is the true? — which embraces the question: What is good and practically effective? — the latter question begins to be an independent one. Men ask: How should knowledge be constituted in order that one can attain a practical goal in life? And so in the period of decline we see the stream of Stoicism arising. With Plato and Aristotle the good was directly contained in the wise; impulses of the good could proceed only from the wise. The Stoics ask: What must man do in order to become wiser in the practice of living, in order to live to some purpose? Goals of practical life insert themselves into what was formerly the all prevailing impetus of truth.

    With Epicureanism comes an element that may be described as follows. — Men ask: How must I prepare myself intellectually in order that this life shall run its course with the greatest possible happiness and inner peace? To this question, Thales, Plato and even Aristotle would have answered: Search after the truth and truth will give you the supreme happiness, the germinating seed of love. — But now men separate the one question from the question of truth, and a stream of decline Sets in. Stoicism and Epicureanism are a stream of decline, the invariable consequence being that men begin to question truth itself and truth loses its power. Hence, simultaneously with Stoicism and Epicureanism in the period of decline, Scepticism arises — doubt in regard to truth. And when Scepticism and doubt, Stoicism and Epicureanism, have exercised their influence for a time, then man, still striving after truth, feels cast out of the World-Soul and thrown back upon his own soul. Then he looks around him, saying: This is not an age when Impulses flow into humanity from the on working stream of the spiritual Powers themselves. He is thrown back upon his own inner life, his own subjective being. In the further course of Greek life, this comes to expression in Neo-Platonism, a philosophy which is no longer concerned with external life, but looks within and strives upwards to truth through the mystical ascent of the individual. One stream of the cultural life is mounting, another declining, stage by stage.

    In past ages humans had a collective belief in divine powers supplying them with the idea of the true and the good. Now people are tasked with the responsibility of acquiring their own truth for themselves as individuals. Whether we believe this has been granted by the forces of evolution or by higher powers does not alter the fact that we have been given this freedom.

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  39. Alan Fox:

    CharlieM: I believe that “kinds” in Genesis is different to our present categorisation of species. In my opinion it is more like what Goethe would term the “typus”. It is a higher category from which present day organisms have obtained their essential form. Present day species are a further differentiation which allowed for the eventual development of a physical organism that is capable of a high level of individuality and self determination. The process of evolution has lead up to this position correlating to the sixth day of creation in Genesis.

    The process of biological evolution is a tree, not a ladder. Genesis is not even internally consistent.

    It’s neither a tree nor a ladder, it’s an overall progressive stream incorporating eddy currents running in all directions.

    I believe that the story of the Garden of Eden is mea[n]t to depict a time before the condensation of the human into dense physical matter. Prior to this the human would have been thought of as belonging more to the realm of the Elohim.

    One god, two names? How does that work?

    Multiplicity in unity. And not forgetting that “Elohim” is plural.

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  40. Alan Fox:

    CharlieM: I’m not sure what you chart has to do with reality.

    It is meant to show that correlation does not necessarily indicate causality.

    Where is the correlation? The points on the chart show a continuous increase but the numbers along the bottom do not show a continuous decrease.

    And my point was that there need not be a causal link between planet positions and individual life histories for there to be a relationship.

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  41. Alan Fox:

    CharlieM: I’m not sure what you chart has to do with reality.

    It is meant to show that correlation does not necessarily indicate causality.

    Where is the correlation? The points on the chart show a continuous increase but the numbers along the bottom do not show a continuous decrease.

    And my point was that there need not be a causal link between planet positions and individual life histories for there to be a relationship.

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  42. Alan Fox: Parmenides maintained that it is self-defeating to say that something does not exist. The linguistic rendering of this insight is the problem of negative existentials: ‘Atlantis does not exist’ is about Atlantis. A statement can be about something only if that something exists. No relation without relata! Therefore, ‘Atlantis does not exist’ cannot be true. Parmenides and his disciples elaborated conceptual difficulties with negation into an incredible metaphysical monolith.

    Parmenides definitely gets the whole ball of Western metaphysics rolling. He argues that we cannot conceive of non-being, since all thought is thinking of something: there’s no thought without content, and as a result we cannot conceive of non-being (that which is not).

    Why does this matter, though? It matters because all ancient Greek myth and speculative thought before Parmenides depended on the thought that change involve coming-into-being. Something wasn’t, then it became, and now it is; when it changes again, it could cease to be.

    Parmenides was the first to realize that this is absurd, because it involves the very idea of non-being. Something comes into existence means that it did not exist before then. But can this non-being really be coherently understood? Parmenides reasoned, quite elegantly, that it could not be.

    From this Parmenides drew the radical conclusion: there is no change. Nothing ever becomes or changes. There is only the appearance of such. That insight generates the whole reality/appearance distinction from which the rest of Western metaphysics derives.

    The post-Parmenidean challenge became: (1) what is the nature of Being, that which exists without change? and (2) why do we experience the world as one of change or becoming? Anaxagoras, Empedocles, Democritus, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, and Epictetus all offer different answers to that question, and its those answers that define the basic parameters of Western thought: rationalism vs empiricism, idealism vs materialism, holism vs reductionism, etc.

    Alan Fox: Beliefs about whether sensations correspond to an actually existing thing must be tested against knowledge of the world, as informed by Epicurean theory.

    I don’t think that’s wrong, but it’s a bit misleading. Epicurus accepted Democritus’s argument for why the world must be explained in terms of atoms and void. (Fun fact: given the legacy of Parmenides, the real challenge for the ancient Greek atomists was trying to explain how they were able to conceive of empty space!) But the Democritean argument was based on abstract reasoning, not experience.

    One of Epicurus’s major innovations was to show how atomism needed to meet the challenge posed by Aristotelian empiricism. To do this, he has to invent an atomistic explanation of sense-perception — one that actually turns out to be insightful, thousands of years before empirical science showed that it’s almost right.

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  43. CharlieM: And my point was that there need not be a causal link between planet positions and individual life histories for there to be a relationship.

    A statistical correlation is a conceptual relationship, not an actual one.

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  44. Kantian Naturalist: One of Epicurus’s major innovations was to show how atomism needed to meet the challenge posed by Aristotelian empiricism. To do this, he has to invent an atomistic explanation of sense-perception — one that actually turns out to be insightful, thousands of years before empirical science showed that it’s almost right.

    It’s perhaps a shame that only fragments of his writings survive.

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