Max’s Demon, a Design Detection Riddle

Suppose Max comes to you with a sealed but clear container consisting of two separate chambers with two visible certified thermometers mounted on the sides of the two chambers. Thermometer one reads 100 degrees and Thermometer 2 reads 10 degrees. Max tells you that the temperature differential you see is the result of tiny invisible demon that controls a microscopic door between the two chambers. As individual gas molecules approach the door, the demon quickly opens and shuts the door so that only fast molecules are passed into chamber one, while only slow molecules are passed into chamber two.

Your mission if you choose to accept it is to devise a way to objectively verify the demon’s design influence on the contents of the container?

As always when it comes to riddles like this there are few ground rules.

1) you may examine the container and it’s contents in any way you like as long as you don’t violate it’s physical integrity because that will let the demon escape and ruin the closed nature of the system.

2) The demon is invisible so efforts to view him directly won’t work

3) You may examine the thermometers to verify that they are functioning correctly or replace them with ones of your choosing if you like.

I don’t want to spoil the fun by sharing my proposed method for detecting the demon’s design until I hear some of your ideas.

What do you say is objective design detection possible in this case?

peace

227 thoughts on “Max’s Demon, a Design Detection Riddle

  1. Allan Miller: If an allele is detrimental to possessors’ net survival and reproductive output, then that alone would tend to eliminate it from the population. Therefore, the ‘demon’ would be notable for its tendency to sustain detrimental alleles, against the attrition of the environment.

    In other words, frequency-dependent selection could be a signal of a demon. Of course there are ecological interactions that can bring about frequency-dependent selection too, without a demon being necessary.

  2. Allan Miller: Or it is the Demon of Drift, manipulating finity just so to ensure that a detrimental allele becomes common and a beneficial one lost.

    This makes it sound like drift works at cross-purposes to selection, so perhaps “Demon of Drift” is appropriate.

  3. Corneel:
    fifthmonarchyman: I like the riddle precisely because it lets us knock the very interesting idea of design around in a manner that is not tainted with theological arguments about God’s existence or the problem of evil or philosophical arguments about free will or political arguments about how hypocritical and intolerant Christians are.

    Corneel: I fear that most TSZ residents were sharp enough to spot a metaphor here, so I doubt that it helped.

    Yes. FWIW, I think the entire “puzzle” is theological and, if I’ll be permitted a psychological explanation, it’s because FMM is God-obsessed. He has an unshakeable faith that Jesus Christ (in one of his three incarnations) is responsible for a bunch of stuff that scientists insist is “natural.” So he is hellbent (prolly not the best word here) to show that either these artifacts must have intentional causes or (as here) that nobody can prove they don’t. (I.e., it might be a demon, no?)

    But it’s all God, 24-7. Just please don’t mention anything about religion in your comments to his posts because, um, that’s not why he’s here.

  4. Allan Miller: If an allele is detrimental to possessors’ net survival and reproductive output, then that alone would tend to eliminate it from the population. Therefore, the ‘demon’ would be notable for its tendency to sustain detrimental alleles, against the attrition of the environment.

    Not necessarily detrimental perhaps just neutral to the environment.

    When the Demon opens the door for fast moving molecules she is not doing any thing “against the attrition of the environment.” All she is doing is selecting for things that the environment of the container is neutral about.

    Always keep in mind Mungs important point that the second law 2LoT is a statistical “law” and not a physical law. That means that the demon is not fighting against anything in nature when she selects the outcomes she does.

    It’s only when we see all of her choices in the aggregate that we realize that she possibly has different priorities than nature.

    peace

  5. Zachriel: It’s not a person, because people can’t violate the 2nd law. Nothing known can violate the 2nd law.

    No one said the Demon is violating the second law. I would be very surprised if she was.

    Zachriel: If the key to your riddle is “apparently”, then there are all sorts of possible causes, depending on the sensitivity and length of observation.

    Apparently violating the 2nd law is not the “key” to my riddle. The 2nd law have very little to do with my riddle

    What we have is an improbable phenomena and an explanation we need to validate.

    The second law is only important in that it is what makes the phenomena improbable.

    peace

  6. DNA_Jock: The magical heat pump may be the result of design, or it may be an unintended consequence of the actions of the Invisible Pink Unicorn.

    EXACTLY !!!!

    It would not be a good riddle if there was only one possible answer. What we are trying to do is decide if the temperature difference is the result intention or is unintentional. How would you go about doing it??

    If you throwing in the towel and saying that there is absolutely no way to ever differentiate between natural selection and personal choice then Darwin has a problem. Because his theory relies on that difference.

    peace

  7. Joe Felsenstein: Ah, so you’re into “His eye is on the sparrow”

    Actually I’d just assume keep the conservation limited to the container and the demon. We don’t need to discuss evolution to think about detecting design.

    When we talk about things like the providence surrounding the grand sweep of life lots of folks here loose their minds

    peace

  8. Joe Felsenstein: In other words, frequency-dependent selection could be a signal of a demon.

    So there are “signals” that you might look for when determining if a phenomena is the result of design.

    Now we are getting somewhere

    I would really like to see a list.

    peace

  9. walto: if I’ll be permitted a psychological explanation, it’s because FMM is God-obsessed.

    You are correct that I am God obsessed. God is Truth so to be God obsessed is really just to be truth obsessed.

    I am obsessed with knowing the truth about the world.

    You are incorrect to think that this thread is all about evolution.

    My riddle is part of an ongoing side quest of mine to understand the difference between persons and AI. As time goes on I’m more and more convinced that there is a difference and that we can detect it.

    That is what my game is about and also my little weather observation and that is what I’d like this thread to be about.

    I will grant that I think that if neo-darwinism is true then evolution behaves in an algorithmic way that is like our best computer programs and not like a person but that is a conversation for another thread and another day.

    peace

  10. fifthmonarchyman: It would not be a good riddle if there was only one possible answer. What we are trying to do is decide if the temperature difference is the result intention or is unintentional. How would you go about doing it??

    If, and only if, you are willing to entertain magical explanations, then you cannot. You may be familiar with a quote from Lewontin on this subject. You might want to think about the consequences for ID and ‘scientific’ creationism.

    If you throwing in the towel and saying that there is absolutely no way to ever differentiate between natural selection and personal choice then Darwin has a problem. Because his theory relies on that difference.

    Wow, that’s quite the leap!
    No, I am not saying that, and I am genuinely amazed that you could think that that somehow follows. Your analogy has broken down. If we are analogizing to natural selection, then the Demon is visible, and we can interfere with his perception of the molecules and monitor how that affects his behavior. In short, the problem becomes tractable.
    Design detection, you are doing it wrong.

  11. Allan Miller: This is somewhat the reverse of your scenario. This ‘demon’ is sampling the average velocity of atoms on either side and letting through an excess of those tending to equilibrate. But it does not really have to bother, nature will do it.

    So a Demon that does exactly what nature would do is undetectable. That is a good first step I guess.

    So you are saying that when we look to detect design here we are looking for things about temperature difference in the the container that we would not expect nature to do. Is that a fair statement?

    peace

  12. DNA_Jock: If, and only if, you are willing to entertain magical explanations, then you cannot.

    You might be surprised to know that I don’t believe in “magic”. It’s a firm conviction of mine that the laws of nature are never violated not even by God.

    For God to violate the laws of nature would be for him to deny himself something he can’t do.

    That does not mean that we as 21st century westerners have a complete and comprehensive understanding of what the laws of nature are. Or that we will never encounter things that might seem like they violate the laws of nature as we understand them

    I’m beyond convinced that the demon does not violate the laws of nature. I made that clear at the very beginning of this thread.

    DNA_Jock: Your analogy has broken down. If we are analogizing to natural selection, then the Demon is visible, and we can interfere with his perception of the molecules and monitor how that affects his behavior. In short, the problem becomes tractable.

    WOW

    So you are saying that we can’t tell the difference even in principle between natural selection and personal choice in any instance where the proposed selector is not directly accessible to us.

    If that is the case how do you know that natural selection even exists? Perhaps it’s all just personal choice by a hidden farmer.

    There is no law of nature that says that “selectors” must be visible to a hominid living on an obscure planet in an out of the way spot in the universe.

    Claiming that selection is natural when you have no possible way of knowing that it or not is at best begging the question

    peace

  13. fifthmonarchyman: It would not be a good riddle if there was only one possible answer.

    It would best if there was one possible correct answer.

    What we are trying to do is decide if the temperature difference is the result intention or is unintentional. How would you go about doing it??

    The observation that there is a manufactured box with two compartments and attached thermometers would point to intention.

  14. fifthmonarchyman: WOW
    So you are saying that we can’t tell the difference even in principle between natural selection and personal choice in any instance where the proposed selector is not directly accessible to us.

    No, I am not. I am saying that, in the case of natural selection, the “proposed selector” is accessible to us.
    Logic not your strong suit, I see.

  15. Mung: This makes it sound like drift works at cross-purposes to selection

    Sometimes it does. That’s why ‘fit is whatever survives’ is incorrect.

  16. DNA_Jock: No, I am not. I am saying that, in the case of natural selection, the “proposed selector” is accessible to us.
    Logic not your strong suit, I see.

    For the Christian God is the proposed selector. For the Hindu it might be Brahma it’s not some human that is accessible to us.

    When you claim that X is the result of natural selection you are claiming that no person including God is responsible for it.

    If instead all you are only claiming to know that some Farmer from down the lane did not select for X then your explanation is utterly vacuous. To the point of being laughable.

    No one ever once said that farmer brown was responsible for X. Not even in ancient times were we ever that stupid.

    peace

  17. fifthmonarchyman,

    I think you are confusing the two metaphors; there are big differences between the behaviour under neutral evolution and the case where temperatures equilibrate. Under neutral evolution, allowing ‘nature to take its course’ results in a nonequilibrium frequency for one allele over all others.

  18. Allan Miller: Under neutral evolution, allowing ‘nature to take its course’ results in a nonequilibrium frequency for one allele over all others.

    I’m not sure why that is relevant.

    I’m not concerned with nonequilibrium verses equilibrium in the slightest I’m concercend with natural verses personal.

    If it’s “natural” for one allele to reach nonequilibrium over all others then the personal thing might be equilibrium.

    Get it? we are looking for things that we would expect a person to do rather than nature.

    peace

  19. fifthmonarchyman: I will grant that I think that if neo-darwinism is true then evolution behaves in an algorithmic way that is like our best computer programs and not like a person but that is a conversation for another thread and another day.

    I won’t grant that what you say you think qualifies as thinking.

  20. DNA_Jock: Logic not your strong suit, I see.

    Yet FMM remains convinced of the incisiveness of his “riddle.” We’re supposed to address the argument, and not the perceived failings of the commenter. But this is a through-the-looking-glass thread. At some point, the question “What is going on with this guy?” forces itself upon us. Echoing what Joshua Swamidass recently said about Eric Holloway, I’ll say that fifthmonarchyman is genuinely confused. I’m at a loss as to how to respond to him appropriately. A thorough deconstruction of his… zaniness would be an enormous amount of work. You’d have to write three or four times as much as FMM does, to straighten things out. And, then, what difference would it make?

  21. Tom English: You’d have to write three or four times as much as FMM does, to straighten things out. And, then, what difference would it make?

    He is a craftsman in his medium.

  22. fifthmonarchyman:

    I’m not concerned with nonequilibrium verses equilibrium in the slightest

    Whether you are interested or not, do you understand his point or not? Perhaps you should try to understand other’s point of view.

    I’m concercend with natural verses personal.

    We must have moved on from design. So nature versus a person. I would take nature and give the points. Unless you are a dualist, a person is part of nature. A fragile part which can make tools.

    If it’s “natural” for one allele to reach nonequilibrium over all others then the personal thing might be equilibrium.

    If the personal thing can do that, if the personal thing does not know how, it is not a “might” . Persons are limited in their choices by resources , knowledge, tools and goals.

    Nature is also limited but does not require knowledge or tools . It just has to exist. Scientists are in the process of figuring out how it came to exist. What are its regularities and patterns. Can we predict it.

    Theologians ask why it exists. Is someone pulling the strings. I guess that is the difference, nature doesn’t ask questions. Unless you include persons into nature.

    Get it? we are looking for things that we would expect a person to do rather than nature.

    Well, both can change the climate by releasing CO2 into the atmosphere. Both can cause death and destruction. Both can create arches. Both can make unique temporary patterns of matter.

    Persons can use tools to temporarily mitigate the ,adverse to a person, properties of nature. Persons are not completely compelled by instinct , persons capable of symbolic thought. ( Some non-persons may be also )

    peace

  23. fifthmonarchyman: My riddle is part of an ongoing side quest of mine to understand the difference between persons and AI.

    Maybe you should compare baby persons to AI. Both are in development.

    As time goes on I’m more and more convinced that there is a difference and that we can detect it.

    Someone must think different:

    “71% of Americans think brands should have consent before using A.I. to market to them
    28% would feel negatively towards their favorite brand if they discovered it was using A.I. instead of humans for customer service”

    Looks like it is getting harder to detect.

    That is what my game is about and also my little weather observation and that is what I’d like this thread to be about.

    Strange way of going about it.

  24. fifthmonarchyman,

    If it’s “natural” for one allele to reach nonequilibrium over all others then the personal thing might be equilibrium

    This was precisely Joe F’s point in relation to frequency dependent selection. However, it’s still not clear that this would result from choice rather than (say) two battling Designers.

  25. Allan Miller: it’s still not clear that this would result from choice rather than (say) two battling Designers.

    1) I don’t think there has to be any kind of battle whatever. The demon is not battling nature. She is just focused on things that nature is oblivious to.

    2) When you say two battling designers you imply there are two persons making choices. Surely that is not your intention here.

    peace

  26. Tom English: I’m at a loss as to how to respond to him appropriately.

    Ignoring me might be a possibility. It certainly would be more fruitful than discussing intersubjective verses subjective experience in this thread in my opinion.

    Or………… you could take a crack at the riddle and explain how you would go about detecting design when it comes to Max’s demon

    Or………..You could explain how you differentiate between natural selection and personal choice.

    peace

  27. fifthmonarchyman: 2) When you say two battling designers you imply there are two persons making choices. Surely that is not your intention here.

    For the Christian God is the proposed selector. For the Hindu it might be Brahma

    Stands to reason that they don’t agree on everything.

  28. fifthmonarchyman: 1) I don’t think there has to be any kind of battle whatever. The demon is not battling nature. She is just focused on things that nature is oblivious to.

    Well, sez you. Surely one would wish to be exhaustive of the possibilities … 🤔 If one admits of one demon, why not more? A standoff may not be the choice either demon.

    2) When you say two battling designers you imply there are two persons making choices. Surely that is not your intention here.

    Yes, it is. Although, as in chess, those choices are constrained by choices made on the other side of the board. Think also predator-prey relations.

  29. newton: Whether you are interested or not, do you understand his point or not?

    No,—— I don’t think he is making a pertinent point. It seems to me that he is trying to talk about what neutral evolution looks like for some reason.

    For the purposes of this thread neutral evolution is completely irrelevant as far as I can tell. If he thinks it’s relevant I would appreciate if he explained why

    newton: We must have moved on from design. So nature versus a person.

    I have stipulated that I consider design to be the fruit of personal choice as apposed to natural selection.

    newton: Unless you are a dualist, a person is part of nature. A fragile part which can make tools.

    Granted but a person is not equal to nature the differences are what we call his personality.

    newton: Persons are limited in their choices by resources , knowledge, tools and goals.

    Right I would put the emphasis on goals. Persons have goals that don’t exactly correspond to the “natural” they are instead personal.

    That is a big part what makes us persons in the first place.

    newton: Nature is also limited but does not require knowledge or tools .

    I would say that nature is limited in that it’s not personal. It has no concern for goals whatsoever. It only exists.

    newton: I guess that is the difference, nature doesn’t ask questions.

    You are getting warmer

    newton: Persons are not completely compelled by instinct

    How do you know this?? What it look like if persons were completely compelled by instinct…..????

    Thanks for the interaction
    more later
    Peace

  30. Allan Miller: Surely one would wish to be exhaustive of the possibilities

    Claiming that selection is by choice of only a single Selector when you have no possible way of knowing that is at best begging the question.

  31. Tom English,

    You’re right. Full deconstruction of the zaniness would be a lot of work, and almost certainly futile. But I find that his attempts at reductio ad absurdum offer an interesting insight into the nature of the confusion. Every time I read another “so what you’re claiming is…” it’s a new data point: how on earth could someone think that that follows from what was written?
    Fifth is not the only commenter here who offers such insights.

  32. Allan Miller: Under neutral evolution, allowing ‘nature to take its course’ results in a nonequilibrium frequency for one allele over all others.

    You seem to be under the impression that an equilibrium state is one in which the distribution is a uniform distribution. Have I misunderstood you or is that what you think?

    Because if that is not the case then I don’t know how to make sense of your “nonequilibriuim frequency.”

  33. fifthmonarchyman: No one said the Demon is violating the second law.

    How much does the demon eat?

    fifthmonarchyman: The 2nd law have very little to do with my riddle

    Huh? You cite “Max’s Demon” and it doesn’t have anything to do with the 2nd law of thermodynamics? We mentioned the observational period. Perhaps the sun is warming one side of the container. That should be good for a billion years or so — depending on the weather.

    fifthmonarchyman: What we are trying to do is decide if the temperature difference is the result intention or is unintentional. How would you go about doing it??

    By collecting evidence. Is the sun shining?

    fifthmonarchyman: If you throwing in the towel and saying that there is absolutely no way to ever differentiate between natural selection and personal choice then Darwin has a problem. Because his theory relies on that difference.

    Your point is that because we can’t distinguish natural causes and personal choice in the case of Max’s Demon, we can’t distinguish natural causes and personal choice in the case of Darwin’s selection.

    Your analogy is poorly chosen because Maxwell’s Demon can’t exist. You should try a real example, something that could exist: We have an closed system with water in a pool surrounded by a higher dry area. The water is heated, evaporates, precipitates down on the dry area, then flows back into the pool. A heat pump! Is this natural or artificial weather?

  34. Tom English: A thorough deconstruction of his… zaniness would be an enormous amount of work. You’d have to write three or four times as much as FMM does, to straighten things out.

    For me it’s like 10 to 20 times as much is required. I can read, write, and do some basic math. 🙂

  35. Allan Miller: However, it’s still not clear that this would result from choice rather than (say) two battling Designers.

    Sounds like the basis for a sci fi novel. Finally we have an explanation for the Grand Canyon that I can accept!

  36. Mung: Sounds like the basis for a sci fi novel. Finally we have an explanation for the Grand Canyon that I can accept!

    One designer = best explanation, two designers = now you are being ridiculous. Funny lots of human design has multiple designers.

  37. fifthmonarchyman: Ignoring me might be a possibility.

    I’ve probably ignored you more than any other of the regulars in the Zone has ignored you. But I am sometimes bothered by the thought that you might be the way you are because you were abused as a child, i.e., duped by grownups who told themselves that religious “education” was good for you, and that you might be intent now on inflicting the abuse, which you don’t recognize as abuse, on the next generation. I don’t know whether your religious upbringing rose to the level of abuse, but I certainly have seen it rise to that level in a number of cases.

    fifthmonarchyman: It certainly would be more fruitful than discussing intersubjective verses subjective experience in this thread in my opinion.

    You should do something about your ignorance [“The condition of being uninformed or uneducated. Lack of knowledge or information”] of the distinction before stating an opinion. Hint: It just might have something to do with the issue of whether invisible pink unicorns (and God and Brahman) are in the same category as natural selection.

    fifthmonarchyman: Or………… you could take a crack at the riddle and explain how you would go about detecting design when it comes to Max’s demon

    I explained why the “riddle” is a cute little trap. And you have since revealed your noxious little “gotcha.” Basically, you’ve given a false account of your objective in this thread.

    fifthmonarchyman: Or………..You could explain how you differentiate between natural selection and personal choice.

    They’re not in the same category, so your question is ill posed. And it is not for no reason that I’ve brought up the distinction of subjective and intersubjective experience. You’re indicating that there has to be a decision between [EDIT: the two natural selection and personal choice]. I’m saying that personal choice isn’t even on the table when we’re considering natural selection as an account of adaptive evolution.

  38. fifthmonarchyman,

    No,—— I don’t think he is making a pertinent point. It seems to me that he is trying to talk about what neutral evolution looks like for some reason.

    Because you brought it up! You asked about selection, I responded with a reference to the environment, you responded by referring to the scenario in which the environment was ‘neutral’, which the more biologically literate among us would probably forgive me for thinking meant that portion of the selective spectrum which was neither positive nor negative.

  39. Mung: You seem to be under the impression that an equilibrium state is one in which the distribution is a uniform distribution. Have I misunderstood you or is that what you think?

    I felt it a reasonable use of the term ‘equilibrium’ to refer to a situation where there are equal numbers of alleles A and B, maintained indefinitely. It’s not thermodynamic equilibrium, of course. Call it something else if you wish.

  40. Mung: Sounds like the basis for a sci fi novel. Finally we have an explanation for the Grand Canyon that I can accept!

    It certainly makes more sense of the many ‘arms races’ in evolution – predator/prey, parasite/host, paternal/maternal imprinting etc.

  41. Zachriel: How much does the demon eat?

    Again,

    We don’t even know if she does eat and I really don’t care.

    If you want to see if you can find out in some way knock yourself out.

    If you want to be helpful in some way explain why it makes a difference to the riddle

    Zachriel: You cite “Max’s Demon” and it doesn’t have anything to do with the 2nd law of thermodynamics?

    Again,
    I chose max’s demon because it facilitates a discussion of design detection when we know very little about the designer. Not because of some hidden relationship between choice and breaking the 2nd law of thermodynamics.

    It would be more pleasant interacting with you if I did not have to constantly repeat myself about the basic parameters of the discussion.

    Zachriel: Perhaps the sun is warming one side of the container. That should be good for a billion years or so — depending on the weather.

    Again…….

    How could you test that hypothesis and would such a test help you with design detection?? please explain your answer.

    Zachriel: Your point is that because we can’t distinguish natural causes and personal choice in the case of Max’s Demon, we can’t distinguish natural causes and personal choice in the case of Darwin’s selection.

    no………… my point is I think we can in theory tell the difference between natural selection and personal choice in the case of Max’s demon and any other place as well including evolution.

    The point of the riddle is to tease out how we do that.

    Zachriel: Your analogy is poorly chosen because Maxwell’s Demon can’t exist.

    Again ————————–

    Max’s demon might be as simple as the amalgamation of a tiny heat pump and a battery placed in the container by Max himself.

    There is no reason whatsoever why such a thing couldn’t exist.

    Zachriel: We have an closed system with water in a pool surrounded by a higher dry area. The water is heated

    Does the heating of the water come from inside or outside of the closed system?

    If it’s inside then you have just described a more complex example of max’s demon.

    In that case how would you determine whether or not the phenomena you describe is the result of personal choice?

    peace

  42. Tom English: and that you might be intent now on inflicting the abuse, which you don’t recognize as abuse, on the next generation.

    You can stop tilting at windmills now.

    We have already discussed that I have zero interest in having ID taught in schools. I never did. Even if I did there is zero chance it will happen.

    Tom English: It just might have something to do with the issue of whether invisible pink unicorns (and God and Brahman) are in the same category as natural selection

    Well that is not an issue that is pertinent to this thread because I never once have claimed that any of those things was in the same category as natural selection.

    Tom English: Basically, you’ve given a false account of your objective in this thread.

    Are you accusing me of lying? How do you know what my objective is?

    Tom English: I explained why the “riddle” is a cute little trap.

    It’s not a trap. You need to relax. Unless you secretly know that it is possible to detect design in the case of max’s demon and it would be detrimental to admit that.

    I think that it is possible to detect design in this case and I’d like to explore how we would go about it. If having that sort of innocuous discussion is a trap in your world you might need to work on the paranoia.

    If I had to guess I’d say you either think that it’s impossible to detect design in the case I layed out or you think that Max’s demon is too different from anything we normally encounter to be of any use whatsoever.

    If that’s so I’d be interested in discussing it with you as well.

    peace

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