Re: Not enough info for your brain (was Re: Dawkins video)

Glenn R. Morton (
Tue, 16 Jun 1998 21:17:46 -0500

At 08:47 AM 6/16/98 -0700, Greg Billock wrote:
>Glenn Morton:
>> >mutation causes an information loss) studied signal/noise relationships in
>> >DNA as a Johns Hopkins fellow, and has published on the subject in the
>> >Journal of Theoretical and Mathematical biology.
>> Why is there no reference with this? No one can check him out if he
>> doesn't give references. It always gets me when people make statements that
>> can't be verified, like this above.
>Evidently JTMB split a dozen years ago or so. Now there are JTB and JMB,
>and Spetner has no publications in either for the past dozen years
>(or anywhere else in the ISI database, for that matter). It must have
>been before that.

Can I forward the above, not the below, to Gillian Brown? She is the one
who originally contacted Wieland and got Carl's comments which included the
claim of publications. I want to know if Carl can back up his claim.
>I agree, Glenn, that DNA doesn't determine brain wiring, but this is part
>of what makes application of the theory so difficult: we really don't
>know how many ways there are to wire up a brain. Certainly the number
>of neurons factorial is an overestimate by quite a lot. Purkinje cells,
>for instance, have a lot of synapses, but the cerebellum is actually one
>of the most regular parts of the brain.

I don't think we are disagreeing here in spite of what you may think. I am
trying to get someone on the design side of the creationist argument to
tell me where the information comes from. The design group always says
that design requires information, yet there is demonstrably not enough info
to pre-determine our brains let alone at the same time to predetermine our
If the anti-evolutionists are so confident that information is a
pre-requisite for design then they should be able to tell where exactly
the specifications reside.

As to evolutionary mechanisms, Terrence Deacon in the Symbolic Species
talks about how during development, different parts of the brain compete
for connections. The larger the part of the brain, the more connections it
generally makes. With man, the prefrontal portions of the brain have
enlarged dramatically over that in the chimp and thus their competion for
connections creates many connections to our frontal lobes, making us human.
The brain is underdetermined informationally speaking but we are all alike
because the competition for connections plays by the same rules in all of
us, generally.

>I think the fact that we can do molecular biology has contributed to a
>sort of 'genetic optomism' where we tend to ignore the important factors
>in the somatic environment of the DNA, and the broader environment of the
>organism, and think that if we had dino DNA, we could Jurassic Park-ize
>them into dinosaurs. This is almost certainly false--dino DNA assumes
>it will find itself in dino somatic environments, in Jurassic physical

I agree, but it flies in the face of the argument presented by Intelligent
design folks as proof that information is necessary for evolution to proceed.

"Information theorist Hubert Yockey argues that the information needed to
begin life could not have developed by chance; he suggests that life be
considered a given, like matter or energy."~Michael J. Behe, Darwin's Black
Box, (New York: The Free Press, 1996), p. 29

"The origin of life, then, includes the origin of coded information. The
large molecules crucial to life, such as protein and DNA, are constructed
much like a message in a known language, with chemicals acting as letters
and combining in defined sequences to form words, phrases, and sentences.
The 'message' is decoded by the cell much the same way the dots and dashes
of messages in Morese Code cann be decoded by anyone who knows
it."~Percival Davis and Dean H. Kenyon, Of Pandas and People, (Dallas:
Haughton Publishing Co., 1993), p. 6

I would ask the question, "If the origin of the brain doesn't require all
this information, why does the origin of life require the specified
information they claim?
>Just as a final pedantic note in broadcast: information theory is
>concerned with ensembles of events/messages/arrangements, and not with
>less-well-defined ideas of complexity. If there is only one possibility
>for a message, it doesn't matter whether the message is 'BOO' or the
>entire Encyclopedia Brittanica; the information content is the same:
>zero. That doesn't make information theory outmoded and inadequate,
>it just means that if you are going to use it, you have to make an
>effort to specify the context of the transmission (source and sink),
>the statistics of the messages, and so forth.

That was Wieland who was saying info theory was outmoded.


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