Thursday, January 30, 2014

MaxRedline: Arrows

MaxRedline has a particularly brilliant posting today entitled "Arrows".

It's basically a primer on what scientific method is about--and it's not about "consensus", unproven assumptions, or even assumptions that have been "proven" but there's this one eensy-weensy problem.

You would think that all the changes and course reverses in what scientific "consensus" says would breed a little humility among the scientific establishment. But, you would be wrong.

The article Max starts his comments on is here. One of its points is that man's ability to describe may not lead to an ability to understand anything significant. In other words, science may be worthless as a tool for understanding the universe in any useful way.
The sheer number of features for any given organism makes complexity an ineffable trait to grasp, says Dan McShea, an evolutionary biologist at Duke University in Durham, N.C. Shell designs and tooth bumps aren’t inherently perfect reflections of complexity, they’re just amenable to study. Furthermore, he says, people often choose to define complexity by what puts humans on top. If complexity were instead defined by features that allow an organism to survive successfully, he says cyanobacteria might be at the pinnacle level, because they have flourished for 3.5 billion years while many lineages of mammals have gone extinct within a fraction of that time. McShea warns, “This impression of directionality may be an illusion.”

Perhaps the fact that people are stunned whenever organisms become simpler says more about how the human mind organizes the world than about evolutionary processes. People are more comfortable envisioning increasing complexity through time instead of reversals or stasis. Physicist Sean Carroll calls humans “terrible temporal chauvinists” for this reason, because they desperately want the street from the past to the future to run in one direction. The textbook scenarios on early animal evolution might be correct, but they should be treated as hypotheses built by temporal chauvinists. When new data suggests a rearrangement, it must be considered no matter how perplexing the conclusion seems.
(emphasis added)
One scientist ends up saying that whatever happens is evolution.  Doesn't have to fit with any clear theoretical structure. Which means, of course, that "evolution" is a meaningless term because it just means "what is" and is not subject to verifiability.
When asked whether de-evolution, a reversal from the complex to the simple, happens frequently, Dunn replies, sure. “But,” he adds, “I wouldn’t call that de-evolution, I’d call it evolution.”
Max continues:
. . . animals, it seems - and plants as well - began as complex systems. Right from the start.
“When I was younger, and we knew less, we thought that organisms gained genes over millions of years and that the earliest animals were genetically very simple,” says Bill Pearson, a computational biologist at the University of Virginia who developed some of the first techniques to compare protein sequences among organisms. “We think that less now,” he adds.
. . .

So what else didn't we know?

Well, we know that time is an arrow of linear causality; the past leads to the present, which leads to the future. Nobody can know what the future will bring, and the future cannot in any way influence either the present or the past. Right?

Yeah, about that....
“The answer to the question, ‘Could the world be such that we do have a limited amount of control over the past,’ ” Price says, “is yes.” What’s more, Price and others argue that the evidence for such control has been staring at us for more than half a century.

Price’s collaborator, theoretical physicist Ken Wharton of San José State University, argues that retrocausality is a natural way to understand a process known as frustrated spontaneous emission. An atom that normally emits light will cease emitting when its surroundings become incapable of absorbing that light. Thus one event (emission) depends on something that does or doesn’t happen in the future (absorption). “That’s one of the examples of a particle probing the future and seeing what’s there, and then making a decision based on it, and just not decaying,” Wharton says. “It’s hard to understand in a causal model.”
So to sum it all up, it's been recently discovered that the scientific consensus on evolution was wrong, and has been wrong for well over a century. Even the longer-term consensus regarding the "arrow of time" doesn't stand up to scrutiny under certain conditions, so it's likely in need of refinement.
We scientific 21st century people may not know lots of things, but we know for sure there isn't a God and that evolution is the word that explains everything. Even the things that are contrary to our understanding of evolution are still "evolution". How convenient.

Yet, despite huge reversals in what scientists have said are true about lots of different things (here's a link to Max's recent post on reversals in understanding of the age of the Grand Canyon), the scientific establishment still talks as if it knows and has the moral authority to pronounce what is true on all sorts of issues--scientific, economic, political and supernatural.

Pride goes before a fall, and, unfortunately, fools don't learn humility from falls.


MAX Redline said...

Pride goes before a fall, and, unfortunately, fools don't learn humility from falls.

Well put. Darn, I wish I could learn to be succinct!

T. D. said...

First, your posting brilliantly spotlighted the issue.

Second, it always helps to crib from Proverbs. Heh.

MAX Redline said...

I thought I'd heard that somewhere before; I just figured, "Man, that TD gets around!" ;-)

T. D. said...

A word change here and there and it's "paraphrasing". Heh. Really helped on college papers.