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Shut Up And Calculate!

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Posted by Aurino Souza on November 3, 2003 19:06:35 UTC


I'm sorry but I can't make any sense of your post past the second or third paragraph. And the more you explain it, the worse it gets.

In any case, here's the trouble with the theory of evolution as I see it:

There was a time when people didn't know how to explain the phenomenon known as "life". And to cut a long story short, any person knows that the existence of unexplained phenomena carries with it a very important implication: some of our assumptions about reality are wrong. That is a fact about human cognition, and humans have understood that fact ever since they started thinking.

So the existence of living organisms, if seen as a mystery, implies that at least some aspects of reality lie beyond our ability to understand. And that becomes an assumption in itself: something "mysterious" exists out there and is responsible, among other possible things, for the existence of life. All you need to close the link between biology and mysticism is an ellaborate set of myths.

But, according to some people, that is no longer the case. These days we have a rational explanation for the life phenomenon, the mystery is gone, and the myths have become obsolete. Exactly how such a feat was accomplished? The answer, as with the original issue above, has to do with human cognition.

Humans have lived long enough with the concept of "chance", of an event happening for no particular purpose. Now the idea of "chance" goes hand in hand with the idea of "explanation", and this is the hardest thing for me to explain. Basically the issue is that phenomena that happen by "chance" do not need to be explained, because the goal of an explanation is to establish a causal relationship between two phenomena. And looking at it the other way, if you can establish that a certain phenomenom happens by chance, you free yourself from the obligation to explain it.

I'll give an example as that point is extremely important for my position, and the reason people think I'm an idiot for not believing in evolution. If you are walking down the street and someone gives you a dollar, you may find it strange but won't think much about it. "It happened by chance", you will think. But if another person comes by and give you another dollar, and another, and another, you won't see it as the result of chance anymore, you will seek for an explanation. Maybe you're being the victim of one of those TV shows, maybe someone wrote "please give me a dollar" on your back without you seeing it, maybe they came out of a church where the priest urged the congregation to give a dollar to the poorest passerby. Whatever, the point is that once you start seeing something as the product of chance, you seek an explanation for it.

Now because of that an interesting fact about cognition surfaces. If you can convince someone that what they think needs an explanation is, in fact, the product of chance, then they will stop seeking for an explanation. That was Darwin's brilliant stroke: he managed to find a mechanism which implies that "life" can be explained as the product of chance. All of a sudden, life ceases to be mysterious, or at least it becomes no more mysterious than the fact that you never know if you'll get heads or tails when you toss a coin.

How does evolution theory manage such a feat? I mean, how can anyone be convinced that such a complex thing as an organism can be the product of mere chance? And this is where evolution theory pulls its dirty trick: "it had to be chance, otherwise we can't explain it".

So the problem with evolution theory is not that it is wrong, the problem is that it's not a theory! It lacks causal relationships of any kind and therefore explains nothing. It's not enough to say that organisms must adapt to the environment or they would perish; that is a silly truism. A true theory of life must explain WHY organisms adapt to the environment rather than perish, and it must do so by using a CAUSAL mechanism if it's to qualify as an explanation. Otherwise why bother?

I wouldn't mind if biologists had the humility of physicists, who look at their abstract models and think of them as tools of their trade, rather than cosmological truths. "Shut up and calculate", as Feynman replied when asked about some controversial issues. Biologists, on the other hand, calculate nothing and talk a lot. I don't consider them real scientists, but then I'm a crank.

Have fun,


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