Re: Van Till's Grand Canyon

Date: Mon Sep 22 2003 - 23:56:23 EDT

  • Next message: Paul Greaves: "Re: Questions to Allen Roy"

    I had written:

    > > Correct. I never suggested there were any *violations*
    > > of the laws of physics. In fact, I attempted to avoid
    > > this confusion when I acknowledged this point in the
    > > same post, writing:
    > > "While the *functioning* of the physical structures
    > > involved in biotic systems can all be explained energetically,
    > > their origin and evolution can not be so explained."<

    To which David replied:

    > The origin and evolution of biotic systems is energetically
    > permissable, but the details are not energetically predictable,
    > at least at present. Thus, you can explain the origin and
    > evolution of biotic structures by saying that energy from
    > solar radiation, radiometric decay, etc. powered the formation
    > of complex organic molecules, which developed interactions
    > of greater complexity and self-replication. However, that
    > explanation is rather weak in details.

    When I say something "can be understood by energetical considerations" I
    mean that we can understand it using Hamiltionian mechanics, whether
    Classical or Quantum, which are driven by the energy. As stated in my last
    post, the exact path through Hilbert space is often irrelevent because all
    roads lead to maximal entropy. Thus we can calculate the result looking at
    minimal energy configurations and maximum entropy while not actually tracing
    the path of the (usually unknown) state vector through Hilbert Space. Thus
    we understand the resulting entities like snow flakes and soap bubbles while
    having absolutely no idea of the individual path traced by each atom.

    Such is not the case with the origin and evolution of biotic systems. We
    have no fundamental understanding of how they came to be. We have no theory
    that predicts the resulting biological entity. The idea that raw energy +
    laws of physics would somehow drive chaotic matter (Bouncing Balls) into
    self-reproducing information driven biotic systems (Space Shuttles) baffles
    me. The only reason anybody believes this seems to be because of an invalid
    carry over from energy driven physics. But that just doesn't seem to apply
    to biotics.

    Now I know there are self-organizing phenomena that can be understood
    energetically - but they won't help understand life. The kind of
    self-organization that results from energy considerations is non-biotic. It
    doesn't look designed and it isn't information based. The real question is
    how the whole DNA reading, writing, and utilizing entity came to be.

    > The exact result of a even an abiotic physical system
    > may be difficult to predict energetically. For example,
    > kinetic versus thermodynamic factors favor different
    > crystal structures for precipitating calcium carbonate.
    > The form that actually precipitates depends on the exact
    > conditions of temperature, pressure, concentrations of
    > various ions that interact with calcium carbonate, calcium
    > and carbonate concentrations, etc.

    I'm a little confused on this example. Temperature, pressure, and
    concentrations are all part of the energetical calculations I am talking
    about. E.g. T ~ exp(E) [temp goes with the exponent of energy], PV= nRT,
    etc. I am certain that you would agree that the results are entirely
    determined by energetical considerations. While we may have trouble
    predicting the results, we would probably have no trouble understanding them
    (in principle) after the fact.

    I had written:

    > > Biotic systems, on the other hand, are driven by
    > > information and are highly dependent on historical
    > > contingencies. The existence of the structures would
    > > *not* be predicted by mere energetical considerations
    > > that characterizes physical evolution.<

    To which David replied:

    > Again, I am not certain that the difference is qualitative.
    > Crystal structures contain information, though the
    > average inorganic crystal structure can be described
    > relatively simply and thus contains less information
    > than a modest DNA strand. The possibility of existence
    > of biotic structures is in principle predictable from
    > energetic considerations; it is the enormous amount
    > of detail that distinguishes them. Perhaps an analogy
    > might be a sandstone boulder. There is no way to
    > predict the configuration and appearance of each
    > sand grain making up the boulder, though general
    > patterns might be predictable based on knowledge
    > of the environment in which the sandstone formed or
    > based on observations of parts of the boulder.

    I think this is a misunderstanding of information. A random string contains
    maximal information because it requires maximal specification. Any real rock
    contains maximal information in this sense, becuase each atom would need to
    be specified. A crystal would probably contain less information because the
    periodicity reduces the algorythmic complexity. But this has nothing to do
    with the conversation at hand. Biotic systems read, write, and utilize
    information. This is a radically different concept than the information
    stored in the mere structure of a crystal or rock.

    This is why the difference seems *truly qualitative*. I do not no of any
    non-biotic system, except those designed by people, that reads, writes, and
    utilizes information. Can anyone on this list suggest a non-biotic natural
    entity that does so? If not, then perhaps we are coming close to defining
    the edge of the Grand Canyon between Life and Matter.

    I had written:

    > > The problem I have here is that even the simplest cell
    > > is fundamentally distinct from a mere "molecular ensemble"
    > > in that the latter could be predicted by energetical
    > > considerations alone, while the former requires the huge
    > > amount of structure and information represented by even
    > > the simplest strand of DNA and the mechanism that
    > > reads, writes, and utilizes it.<<

    To which David replied:

    > I may have misunderstood your term "molecular ensemble".
    > A cell is an assembly of lots of molecules, some of them
    > rather complex, and with more specific interactions between
    > the parts than e.g., the mix of molecules making up the
    > atmosphere.

    Actually it is Howard's term that I found in his slide that began this

    * molecular ensembles ==> cells

    > There are some hints of simpler systems behind the present-day
    > patterns. For example, all organisms today use rRNA and tRNA
    > in the process of translating DNA into proteins. However, some
    > tRNAs appear to be modifications of other tRNAs, which suggests
    > that the common ancestor of all known organisms once had fewer
    > tRNAs and then used copies of some tRNA genes to develop a
    > more complex system. The extensive roles for RNA in cells and
    > its capabilities as enzymes suggest the possibility of a simpler
    > system in which RNA had the functions of both DNA and protein
    > in modern cells. These ideas have weaknesses as well, but they
    > illustrate the pattern of slightly bridging the gap.

    Well, this is pretty speculative, and doesn't go much beyond a hint. Please
    let me know if you come across anything more definitive.

    > To me, the basic difference seems to be the complexity of biotic
    > systems, making them hard to analyze mathematically. I am not
    > convinced that there are fundamental gaps, however, which
    > makes me doubtful about the long-term chances of the ID
    > movement as presently characterized by Johnson, Dembski, etc.

    It seems to me that the DNA reading, writing, and utilizing entity is the
    most obvious of all "irreducibly complex" entities. Whether Dembski's work
    will survive, I don't know. I haven't found his writings compelling at this
    point. Really, its just the plain intuition that Bouncing Balls do not
    produce Space Shuttles. I have a very strong intuitive sense that there is a
    fundamental qualitative difference between systems that can be fully
    explained in terms of energetical considerations and systems that function
    like machines which would never be predicted by energy considerations alone.

    But I don't have an intuition of how these systems came to be, except that
    it was done by God. But I don't have a movie in my mind that shows *how* it
    all came about. Its a mystery to me. It is the one supposition of the RFEP
    that I find most difficult to swallow.

    > I hope this helps; I may be missing some distinctions that you are making.
    > Dr. David Campbell

    Thanks David, your comments have been very helpful.

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