This site is not maintained. Click here for the new website of Richard Dawkins.

← Hail, ceaseless complexity: Review of 'Reinventing the Sacred'

Hail, ceaseless complexity: Review of 'Reinventing the Sacred' - Comments

petrucio's Avatar Comment 1 by petrucio

Kill me. Kill me now.

Sun, 28 Sep 2008 14:43:00 UTC | #242637

Opisthokont's Avatar Comment 2 by Opisthokont

This article is not as bad as it first seems -- in fact, it is largely on the atheist side. Yes, it joins in with the shrill, chiding masses in claiming that Dawkins is too shrill and chiding, but reread it from "The second challenge..." on: Gee regards Kauffman's arguments for some ill-defined God-thing as unconvincing and unnecessary. The worst that I can accuse the article of is an insufficiently scrutinised tendency towards wit.

Sun, 28 Sep 2008 14:53:00 UTC | #242649

Vinelectric's Avatar Comment 3 by Vinelectric

Santa could do what he does quite handily, you see, if you consider him as a macroscopic quantum object


NEXT........!

Sun, 28 Sep 2008 15:04:00 UTC | #242665

Ex~'s Avatar Comment 4 by Ex~

>This simplistic, with-us-or-against-us worldview
>is as deficient in subtlety as it is in humor. We know
>what we know because of science, it says. Science
>explains everything. So anything that falls outside that
>explanatory system must be false, illusory, even evil.
>What such defenders of science fail to see is that this
>line of reasoning betrays a dreadful misuse of the
>scientific method.


No, it's called REASON. REASON is our ONLY way of explaining ANYTHING. Anything that falls outside of reason is laughable.

>Science cannot explain why human beings act and feel
>and think in the way they do in specific circumstances

Why the fuck not?

Sun, 28 Sep 2008 15:29:00 UTC | #242687

Corylus's Avatar Comment 5 by Corylus

At first I thought I was reading an idiot's ramblings...

Santa could do what he does quite handily, you see, if you consider him as a macroscopic quantum object - something that behaves according to the weird world of quantum physics but is large enough to be visible.
But then...
The QSH explains more of the evidence in a single theoretical scheme than his does.
Ahah! (I thought). Tis nonsense! That still leaves unexplained the fact that the rich kids always get better presents ;-)
The fact is that in Kauffman's scheme, God is unnecessary, even if reductionism fails, so in the end one wonders about the point of preserving a sense of God.
Well, well, well.

In both cases, the Parsimony Police arrest whodunnit.

The author is smart and understands the issues. However, by not resisting the impulse to make 'funny' comments he does himself a disservice in the eyes of the casual reader.

Sun, 28 Sep 2008 15:40:00 UTC | #242701

CoryWhiteland's Avatar Comment 6 by CoryWhiteland

"The author is smart and understands the issues. However, by not resisting the impulse to make 'funny' comments he does himself a disservice in the eyes of the casual reader. "

I have a similar problem when writing a position paper. I just cannot resist the funny. Thank the FSM for editors.

Sun, 28 Sep 2008 15:42:00 UTC | #242704

Steinsky's Avatar Comment 7 by Steinsky

Those who enjoyed the humour should subscribe to Henry's blog:

http://network.nature.com/people/henrygee/blog

Sun, 28 Sep 2008 15:57:00 UTC | #242719

adonais's Avatar Comment 8 by adonais

Gee, what an absolutely content-free review, wasting the first third of it raving about Santa and Dawkins, and the latter half on two "softer" subjects at the end of the book (mind and God). That leaves only a handful of paragraphs in the middle saying anything about two of the salient topics of the book, complexity and reductionism, and here he does little more than just mentioning the presence of the topics. What about Kauffman's long and detailed work on trying to figure out the *laws* of complexity? What about the chapters on abiogenesis, agency, value and meaning, nonergodicity, order and phase-transitions in self-organization systems? Not a single word on anything of what I found the most interesting when I read the book.

It looks like Gee has employed an inverse principle of charity by selecting the most boring and uninteresting chapters for his review and ignoring all the important and fascinating groundwork that genuinely deserves reporting on. Sheesh.

Sun, 28 Sep 2008 16:00:00 UTC | #242724

jt512's Avatar Comment 9 by jt512

The bit about a quantum Santa being everywhere at once reminds of this joke:

Q. What's the difference between a quantum mechanic and an auto mechanic?

A. A quantum mechanic can get his car into the garage without opening the door.

/nerd-humor

Sun, 28 Sep 2008 16:23:00 UTC | #242742

alexmzk's Avatar Comment 10 by alexmzk

what an unpleasant-sounding person.

Sun, 28 Sep 2008 16:29:00 UTC | #242747

ACJames's Avatar Comment 11 by ACJames

Its nice to see mysticism reduced to such silly little notions. How many gods can you fit on the head of a pin? As many as you want.
hahaha.

Sun, 28 Sep 2008 16:36:00 UTC | #242755

PaulJ's Avatar Comment 12 by PaulJ

This quantum stuff, about how things can be in indeterminate locations until observed - I thought Heisenberg's point was that the observation itself necessarily has an effect on the thing observed. Or am I missing the point? (Yes I know the article is not serious about Santa, but the Principle of Indeterminacy seems so fundamental to quantum mechanics that people ought to get it right or else keep quiet.)

Sun, 28 Sep 2008 17:20:00 UTC | #242786

Bonzai's Avatar Comment 13 by Bonzai

PaulJ

I thought Heisenberg's point was that the observation itself necessarily has an effect on the thing observed. Or am I missing the point?


That was his point, but he was wrong

He thought that while observing one quantity, say the momentum of an object, you would disturb the object in such a way that you would no longer know its position Conversely, measuring the object's position would disturb the object in such a way that we would no longer be able to precisely measure its momentum. So, there is a limit to how precisely we can know simultaneously the position and momentum of a particle. There is a trade off. Hence uncertainty principle.

Quantities such as momentum and position of a particle, which cannot be simultaneously measured with arbitrary precision are called "conjugate variables".

But based on today's understanding, it is not quite right to say that conjugate variables cannot be measured simultaneously because of disturbance on the object caused by measurement. To say that the object's momentum/position is disturbed while a measurement of its conjugate is carried out, one would have to assume that it make sense to talk about the simultaneous, objective existence of the conjugate variables to begin with; there has to be "something" in order that it can be "disturbed".

Today's view is that these conjugate variables cannot even be simultaneously defined, the fuzziness is intrinsic. The sharpness of defining these quantities simultaneously is limited by Heisenberg's inequality)

It is not that we cannot measure a particle's trajectory because we necessarily "disturb" it by the act of measurment. It is much more drastic. It would lead to contradictions even by talking about a trajectory (i.e by simply assuming that the particle has a definitive position and momentum at each instant of time even though we don't know what they are) An elementary, but dramatic illustration of this is the famous two slit experiment.

Instead of "uncertainty", a more accurate terminology should be "indefiniteness" or "indeterminancy".

EDIT: According to urban legends Bohr and Heisenberg almost got into a fist fight over this. For a whole night Heisenberg was trying to persuade Bohr that things get "disturbed" while measured, Bohr would grab Heisenberg by the collar and scream "No, No, there is nothing to be disturbed!" almost choking him. Don't know if that was true.

Sun, 28 Sep 2008 17:38:00 UTC | #242797

Goldy's Avatar Comment 14 by Goldy

Sun, 28 Sep 2008 18:25:00 UTC | #242818

Janus's Avatar Comment 15 by Janus

The argument was that Santa couldn't possibly visit all the world's deserving homes in a single night, quite apart from the physical difficulties of flying reindeer, narrow chimney stacks, and so on.

As well as illustrating the intellectual level of Dawkinsian discourse,


You mean that 'Dawkinsian' discourse is clear, concise, rational, and wastes no time with ridiculous possibilities?


My Quantum Santa Hypothesis (QSH) works better than Dawkins' classical one because it explains the taboo about watching Santa at work, as well as his traditional location in cold climates - aspects Dawkins fails to tackle. The QSH explains more of the evidence in a single theoretical scheme than his does.


Yeah, that's about the level of the discourse we Dawkinites have to deal with.


This simplistic, with-us-or-against-us worldview is as deficient in subtlety as it is in humor.


You certainly aren't against us on 100% of issues, but then very few people are. Most of us are perfectly willing to team up with Christian fundamentalists to fight against Islamic supremacists, for example. There are, however, issues on which Christian fundies are against us, and there's at least one issue on which you are against us as well, namely, our opposition to the spreading of unsupported implausible beliefs.

Sun, 28 Sep 2008 18:36:00 UTC | #242828

Janus's Avatar Comment 16 by Janus

Could someone more learned than I am give me one example of an emergent property which obviously can't be explained by a description of its parts and the pattern they are arranged in?

Sun, 28 Sep 2008 18:45:00 UTC | #242835

Gondooley's Avatar Comment 17 by Gondooley

Science cannot explain why human beings act and feel and think in the way they do in specific circumstances...


I'm sorry, can anyone tell me to which specific circumstances he is referring?

I cannot think of any human action, however irrational, that cannot be explained by a rational analysis.


And while I'm at it... Dawkins has had to point out more than once that he was not trying to show off his superior grasp of physics to a minor, he was inviting the girl (his daughter by the way) to think for herself about the issue! To engage her in discourse about some received wisdom!

And I know Gee was trying to be funny. He's just not as good at it as some science writers I could mention...

Sun, 28 Sep 2008 19:03:00 UTC | #242845

jwdink's Avatar Comment 18 by jwdink

Dawkins' definitive answer, which predates Kauffman's argument.

http://www.simonyi.ox.ac.uk/dawkins/WorldOfDawkins-archive/Dawkins/Work/Reviews/1985-01-24notinourgenes.shtml

Today's other barrel, fired off with equal monotony and imprecision is "reductionist".

"(Reductionists) argue that the properties of a human society are... no more than the sums of the individual behaviours and tendencies of the individual humans of which that society is composed. Societies are 'aggressive' because the individuals who compose them are 'aggressive', for instance.''

As I am described in the book as "the most reductionist of sociobiologists", I can speak with authority here. I believe that Bach was a musical man. Therefore of course, being a good reductionist, I must obviously believe that Bach's brain was made of musical atoms! Do Rose et al sincerely think that anybody could be that silly? Presumably not, yet my Bach -- example is a precise analogy to "Societies are 'aggressive' because the individuals who compose them are 'aggressive"'.

Why do Rose et al find it necessary to reduce a perfectly sensible belief (that complex wholes should be explained in terms of their parts) to an idiotic travesty (that the properties of a complex whole are simply the sum of those same properties in the parts)? "In terms of" covers a multitude of highly sophisticated causal interactions, and mathematical relations of which summation is only the simplest. Reductionism, in the "sum of the parts" sense, is obviously daft, and is nowhere to be found in the writings of real biologists. Reductionism, in the "in terms of " sense, is, in the words of the Medawars, "the most successful research stratagem ever devised" (Aristotle to Zoos, 1984).


Brilliant.

I like Kauffman a lot, and I think his arguments are pretty valid. But they make a mistake. The claim, I think, is two fold:

We can't explain certain things by reducing them to physics. Therefore:

a) In practice, we need to explain emergent properties in other ways, possibly less reductionist.

b)In principle, emergent properties are INEXPLICABLE. Not only epistimilogically, but ontologically as well.

The a) claim is definitely solid and agreeable. The b) claim is something I have never, ever heard defended independently of a). It needs a special kind of argument: not just that we can't explain some things with glib reductionism practically but that we can't explain them in principle, because in principle they are fundamentally different. As far as I can tell, this is unsupported.

Sun, 28 Sep 2008 19:53:00 UTC | #242854

Elles's Avatar Comment 19 by Elles

"In Unweaving the Rainbow, Richard Dawkins boasted that he once told a child that Santa Claus didn't exist. The argument was that Santa couldn't possibly visit all the world's deserving homes in a single night, quite apart from the physical difficulties of flying reindeer, narrow chimney stacks, and so on."

If I hadn't lost my copy of Unweaving the Rainbow, I would go look that up. All I can say is I don't quite recall that part. I recall a part where Dawkins was talking about his childhood and he thought that it was okay for children to read faery tales and stuff as long as they eventually grew up.

That's what I remember, at least.

Sun, 28 Sep 2008 20:24:00 UTC | #242857

Diacanu's Avatar Comment 20 by Diacanu


In Unweaving the Rainbow, Richard Dawkins boasted that he once told a child that Santa Claus didn't exist.


Is that meant to offend?
If that story is true, *shrug* good.

Sun, 28 Sep 2008 20:32:00 UTC | #242858

suffolkthinker's Avatar Comment 21 by suffolkthinker

Lighten up people: QSH is a joke - just listen in on conversations in a decent physics faculty tea room to hear lots of similar musings. The rest of the review is sympathetic to our cause.

Sun, 28 Sep 2008 22:23:00 UTC | #242866

Chrysippus_Maximus's Avatar Comment 22 by Chrysippus_Maximus

I am having a profoundly frustrating argument over reductionism (I am in favour of its continued dominance as a powerful scientific methodology). This article, and the linked-to Dawkins tract, have made my evening.

Janus, the standard non-reductionist example is of a hurricane's behaviour. The claim is that the behaviour of a hurricane is so complex that it cannot be explained in terms of its parts. (I disagree, but there you go).

Sun, 28 Sep 2008 22:35:00 UTC | #242870

Shane McKee's Avatar Comment 23 by Shane McKee

Brilliant! Well done, Henry.

[People, look up "irony"...]

Sun, 28 Sep 2008 22:43:00 UTC | #242872

Janus's Avatar Comment 24 by Janus

Yes, the Quantum Santa stuff is a joke, but what's the intent behind it? Is the part where the author sneers at Dawkins and those of us who agree with him a joke too?



Spinoza,

I know that the behavior of a hurricane can't be predicted with perfect accuracy because of its complexity, but I don't think that "not predictable" is equivalent to "not explainable".

Sun, 28 Sep 2008 22:51:00 UTC | #242873

adonais's Avatar Comment 25 by adonais

the standard non-reductionist example is of a hurricane's behaviour.


I'm not sure this is quite it; isn't this chiefly an expression of deterministic chaos? You would still describe a hurricane in terms of its fundamental variables, pressure, temperature, humidity, velocity etc (although these are arguably one level up from an even more fundamental description in terms of the interaction of molecules and particles in the atmosphere).

As an example of emergent phenomena people often cite the flocking behavior of birds and fish, but the defining feature I think is that the description of the phenomena can not be reduced to the fundamental level, but has to take place several levels up. In flocking, it's the interaction between birds that describes the emergent behavior, not the interaction between atoms. Kauffman calls this ontological emergence, and I think this is equivalent to what Dennett describes as the "design level," as opposed to the physical level (Dennett uses the Game of Life and its array of ontological entities as an illustration). At every step up of ontological emergence, while violating no laws of physics, new rules apply that can not be reduced to or deduced from the rules on the lower ontological levels. Some of the rules are even platform independent, like evolution, and can therefore not even be tied down to any specific physics. At least, I *think* this is the idea Kauffman is arguing for.

Sun, 28 Sep 2008 23:05:00 UTC | #242874

Thor'Ungal's Avatar Comment 26 by Thor'Ungal

I have a feeling many people rail against reductionism because of the amalgamating effect the brain has on experience. Things feel distinct and unreducible, reducing it therefore feels unnatural. The feeling of red or falling in love or teenage angst at living in practical world with ideological notions just doesn't seem to break down to chemistry and physics. This is of course irrespective of whether it does or not but hey we're all human I guess.

Sun, 28 Sep 2008 23:31:00 UTC | #242882

jwdink's Avatar Comment 27 by jwdink

Kauffman calls this ontological emergence, and I think this is equivalent to what Dennett describes as the "design level," as opposed to the physical level (Dennett uses the Game of Life and its array of ontological entities as an illustration). At every step up of ontological emergence, while violating no laws of physics, new rules apply that can not be reduced to or deduced from the rules on the lower ontological levels. Some of the rules are even platform independent, like evolution, and can therefore not even be tied down to any specific physics. At least, I *think* this is the idea Kauffman is arguing for.


See, this is where I become confused. Maybe the terminology is just confusing. I'm sure that Dennett never (in Freedom Evolves) claimed that the design level has an ontological separateness from the physical level. I think it's just an epistemological claim. For Kauffman, it seems to be more.

I know that the behavior of a hurricane can't be predicted with perfect accuracy because of its complexity, but I don't think that "not predictable" is equivalent to "not explainable".


I think, in this case, the two are the same. Explaining what happens in a hurricane on the level of our experience of a hurricane is apparently impossible via an explanation of the atoms within the hurricane. We know that one is built up from the other, but we don't know how this happens.

Sun, 28 Sep 2008 23:36:00 UTC | #242883

stephenray's Avatar Comment 28 by stephenray

For a science editor, his understanding of quantum mechanics seems a little faulty.
Santa might be the equivalent of a sub-atomic particle, but how is such a particle to retain its quantum characteristics while it tows a sleigh big enough to carry presents for every house in the world?

Mon, 29 Sep 2008 00:17:00 UTC | #242897

dvespertilio's Avatar Comment 29 by dvespertilio

"Science cannot explain why human beings act and feel and think in the way they do in specific circumstances, and spirituality might even be important, valuable and worthy of respect."

Science is, in fact, making significant strides forward in explaining EXACTLY why human beings act and feel and think the way they do in many, if not all, circumstances, and to imply otherwise is to be disingenuous. And spirituality is important, valuable and worthy of respect, but need have nothing to do with god or belief in the supernatural. A naturalist spirituality is the only kind that makes any sense at all. See http://centerfornaturalism.blogspot.com/2008/07/case-for-naturalistic-spirituality.html for an opinion on naturalist spirituality.

Mon, 29 Sep 2008 01:20:00 UTC | #242926

Szymanowski's Avatar Comment 30 by Szymanowski

QUANTUM SANTA! From a "senior editor" of Nature... oh dear FSM. It ruins the review somewhat.

Mon, 29 Sep 2008 02:03:00 UTC | #242944