# 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. Tom English: I’m saying that personal choice isn’t even on the table when we’re considering natural selection as an account of adaptive evolution.

interesting, Could you elaborate.

Darwin contrasted natural selection with artificial selection it’s how he came up with the concept are you saying he was mistaken to do so?

Or are you saying that once Darwin acknowledged that artificial selection was an effective way to produce the sort of variation we see in biology that artificial selection was forever off the table as an explanation for that variation for some reason.

peace

2. Allan Miller: You asked about selection, I responded with a reference to the environment,

OK so far.

How do you know in the case of Max’s demon that it’s the environment that is doing the selecting rather than a person??

That is the question that the riddle is asking

Allan Miller: 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.

I see.

However by neutral I simply meant that the environment does not care about the choice that the demon is making.

She is not fighting the environment in some way when she opens or closes the door for molecules moving at different speeds.

I was not directly referencing something about the way a particular component of evolutionary theory works.

I might be God obsessed but apparently some people are evolution obsessed 😉

peace

3. Joe Felsenstein: The issue of whether the activity of the Demon would necessarily cause an increase of entropy that would offset the decrease has been the subject of extensive discussion in physics.

I agree. I find the discussion to be very interesting but of little benefit when trying to detect design.

Max’s demon may or may not be increasing the entropy by her choices but it’s a good bet that she could hide it from us if she was.

peace

4. Joe Felsenstein: The issue of whether the activity of the Demon would necessarily cause an increase of entropy that would offset the decrease has been the subject of extensive discussion in physics.

Though it appears to be irrelevant to the OP.

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

Ah. So Max’s Demon is not the same as Maxwell’s Demon. Maxwell’s Demon never runs out of juice. Okay then.

fifthmonarchyman: How could you test that hypothesis {?}

By looking to see if sunshine can account for the temperature differential.

Identifying the source of energy is an important component of the system, and may give us clues as to the origin of the system.

fifthmonarchyman: how would you determine whether or not the phenomena you describe is the result of personal choice?

By looking at the specifics. Your scenario is lacking such specifics, so we would have to suppose some to flesh it out. We have provided several possibilities, some designed and some natural, each for which we can collect evidence and reach a reasonable conclusion.

6. Not sure the appropriate place to note this, but auto-linking for quoted items doesn’t seem to work when posting across thread pages.

7. Zachriel: By looking to see if sunshine can account for the temperature differential.

Now we might be getting somewhere. So you are looking for things that might account for the phenomena.

Zachriel: Identifying the source of energy is an important component of the system, and may give us clues as to the origin of the system.

So you need to know the origin of a system in order to detect design seems odd but I’ll play along?

Why is knowing the origin of a system important to detecting design?

Can you ever detect design if you can’t determine the origin of the system?

Zachriel: By looking at the specifics. Your scenario is lacking such specifics

In the riddle you are the one examining the container. Max does not know much about the container he is a simple man after all.

What are the specifics you need and how would you go about obtaining them with out compromising the integrity of the container?

Zachriel: We have provided several possibilities, some designed and some natural, each for which we can collect evidence and reach a reasonable conclusion.

Perhaps you will never know for sure which “possibility” caused the temperature difference.

Do you need to know for sure how the phenomena was caused in order to reach a reasonable conclusion?

peace

8. fifthmonarchyman: In the riddle you are the one examining the container. Max does not know much about the container he is a simple man after all.

He knew about a possible demon and a tiny door. He thinks it is possible for the demon to escape in you breach the containers. He has a hunch the demon exists, must be a reason for that particular hunch. Why does he think there is demonic design?

9. fifthmonarchyman: OK so far.

How do you know in the case of Max’s demon that it’s the environment that is doing the selecting rather than a person??

Or two …

However by neutral I simply meant that the environment does not care about the choice that the demon is making.

But that actually describes neutral evolution. If the environment does not ‘care’, there is no selective differential. That’s neutral evolution. In all other cases, the Demon must either operate in the same direction as the environment (pointlessly) or in opposition to it, increasing alleles the environment isn’t keen on.

10. newton: He knew about a possible demon and a tiny door. He thinks it is possible for the demon to escape in you breach the containers.

He is simple but not stupid

newton: Why does he think there is demonic design?

Perhaps he is Demon obsessed.

Or maybe he has a rough method he believes will help him detect design that I will detail as soon as I get some suggestions from other folks here on how they would do it. 😉

peace

11. Allan Miller: Or two …

Or millions if each molecule chooses to self select.

Allan Miller: But that actually describes neutral evolution. If the environment does not ‘care’, there is no selective differential. That’s neutral evolution.

Ok then we have a happy but unintended coincidence.

Allan Miller: In all other cases, the Demon must either operate in the same direction as the environment (pointlessly) or in opposition to it,

I would think that “all other cases” is a very limited subset of the total things that could be selected for. We know that the environment permits a huge range of diversity in life for example.

The environment does not care that life is so diverse and interesting, it’s completely neutral to that outcome.

That does not mean that a hypothetical selection demon that chooses diversity and things that are interesting to humans would be fighting against nature in any way. That is the point I was making.

peace

12. fifthmonarchyman: So you need to know the origin of a system in order to detect design seems odd but I’ll play along?

Isn’t that the question you are asking, how it came to be in its current state? Is it the *result* of nature or artifice?

fifthmonarchyman: What are the specifics you need and how would you go about obtaining them with out compromising the integrity of the container?

It’s contingent. Your scenario is largely blank. You study it, and collect any and all information you can. If it’s an artificial container, then there is obviously some artifice involved.

fifthmonarchyman: Perhaps you will never know for sure which “possibility” caused the temperature difference.

Sure. That may very well be the case. Lots of things are mysterious. However, we’ve suggested a number of scenarios that are subject to objective verification.

fifthmonarchyman: Do you need to know for sure how the phenomena was caused in order to reach a reasonable conclusion?

Conclusion about what? Your question concerned whether the state of the container was due to nature or artifice, a.k.a., what caused it. We suggested a number of alternatives.

13. fifthmonarchyman: 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

Fortunately, you’re not interested in God in this thread. Just demons and farmers.

14. fifthmonarchyman: Or millions if each molecule chooses to self select.

Yeah, I’m sure that’s where you’re headed with this.

I would think that “all other cases” is a very limited subset of the total things that could be selected for.

I’d have thought ‘all other cases’ would struggle to be a subset, myself … alleles are either neutral or under selection, which may either be for or against – positive or negative.

15. Allan Miller: Yeah, I’m sure that’s where you’re headed with this.

Well when it comes to detecting design in the market data that started this whole quest we are looking at the effects of thousands of designers at a minimum each making their own personal choices.

So I see no reason to specify the number of designers in order to detect design.

Allan Miller: alleles are either neutral or under selection, which may either be for or against – positive or negative.

Positive or negative or neutral…..;-)
That about covers all the possibilities I think.

peace

16. Zachriel: Isn’t that the question you are asking, how it came to be in its current state? Is it the *result* of nature or artifice?

When you spoke of origins I thought you were talking about specifically what caused the phenomena.

Do you think you can tell the difference between nature or artifice if you don’t know the specific origin??

Zachriel: It’s contingent.

It’s contingent on what?

What I’m looking for is a step by step process for validating Max’s inference if at all possible.

walto: Your scenario is largely blank. You study it, and collect any and all information you can.

agreed. What sort of information are you looking for

Zachriel: If it’s an artificial container, then there is obviously some artifice involved.

There is always some artifice involved you are a person so you make choices in what you look for if nothing else.

Zachriel: However, we’ve suggested a number of scenarios that are subject to objective verification.

None of which are relevant to the riddle unless you are willing to provide a list of which scenarios are indicative of personal choice and why.

Peace

PS who is “WE”?

17. walto: Fortunately, you’re not interested in God in this thread. Just demons and farmers.

1) Who said I’m not interested in God in this thread? God is truth so anytime we seek to discover the truth about anything we are seeking God

2) what I’m not interested in is tired old philosophical or theological debates. I want to discuss design detection in as much as “neutral” playing field as we can muster.

3) The specific line of question to which you link has to do with exactly what natural selection in Darwin’s theory is contrasted against.

It was suggested that when it comes to evolution the effects of natural selection are only contrasted with the actions of designers you can see and touch.

I think that contention is false on it’s very face

peace

18. walto,
You obviously have a problem with me. I just want to say for the record that I’m sorry if I’ve offended you.
It was never my intention to do so.

peace

19. fifthmonarchyman: What I’m looking for is a step by step process for validating Max’s inference if at all possible.

The typical way to proceed is to collect evidence and see where the evidence leads. If you are looking for something beyond the steps of the scientific method, we’d be happy to hear what you mean. Such a method would probably overlook many plausible explanations, but we’d be happy to respond to your specific argument.

fifthmonarchyman: None of which are relevant to the riddle unless you are willing to provide a list of which scenarios are indicative of personal choice and why.

Example from above: {Hot} chicken soup in one half of a divided thermos container, and iced tea in the other. Personal choice, the person likes {hot} chicken soup and iced tea for lunch.

{edit}

20. walto,
You obviously have a problem with me. I just want to say for the record that I’m sorry if I’ve offended you.
It was never my intention to do so.

peace

I don’t have a problem with you and you haven’t offended me. Yet you say that those two falsehoods are “obvious” to you. There’s a moral there.

21. fifthmonarchyman:

Referring to your insistence that we consider the possibility of “personal choice” along with natural selection, I wrote:

Tom English: 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 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.

You quoted the part that I’ve emphasized now, and replied:

fifthmonarchyman: interesting, Could you elaborate.

WE have no shared experience of invisible agents deciding on the survival and reproduction of organisms. No matter how prevalent the personal conviction that the Invisible Pink Unicorn decides which organisms shall die and which shall procreate, it is still a matter of private belief, not shared experience. Exclusion of inherently private beliefs from scientific accounts is not viewpoint discrimination. It’s a commitment to what a community of observers actually can observe as a community.

fifthmonarchyman: Darwin contrasted natural selection with artificial selection it’s how he came up with the concept are you saying he was mistaken to do so?

The word choice you needed to make here was not contrasted/with, but instead analogized/to. The main point in “natural selection” (which Darwin later wished he’d called “natural preservation”) is that the analogy is no more than an analogy.

What’s the casual characterization of natural selection today? Differential survival and reproduction. Organisms do the surviving and reproducing. There is no appeal to an invisible and extrinsic something-or-another that “survives and reproduces” them.

WE do have shared experience of circumstances in which survival and reproduction of organisms depend on their heritable traits.

fifthmonarchyman: Or are you saying that once Darwin acknowledged that artificial selection was an effective way to produce the sort of variation we see in biology that artificial selection was forever off the table as an explanation for that variation for some reason.

“Artificial selection writ large” was never an option for Darwin. We collectively can see pigeon breeders doing their thing. We cannot see collectively the Big Pigeon Breeder in the Sky. You have a right to believe in the Big Pigeon Breeder in the Sky just as you do the Invisible Pink Unicorn — in the U.S., anyway — but you do not have a right to respect when you tell others that they must consider what you believe to be true purely on the basis of private experience. Your private experience is not in the same category as the kind of experience that scientists are trying to account for.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.