Dkomo 2012-06-10 09:33:56
Evolution produces organisms which show the appearance of design, but
are not actually designed. Evolution uses random variation and
selection to do this.
In the computer world, genetic algorithms and genetic programming
closely mimic evolution. Genetic algorithms find good approximate
solutions to difficult optimization problems using random variation and
selection for fitness. Genetic programming generates computer programs
which are good solutions to specific problems, again using random
variation and selection to accomplish this.
In the general world of human design, is there anything more than random
variation and selection? Yes, an evaluative memory. As a design
proceeds, it is *guided* using a combination of what has worked in the
past with foresight into what may work in the future. A large and
highly complex neural network continuously monitors the progress of the
design, providing highly discriminatory feedback. This type of guidance
is what is missing in evolution and the computer science examples.
R norman 2012-06-10 09:34:05
Your suggestion of “evaluative memory” requires mechanisms not present
at all in evolution. You can’t argue that evolution is “deficient” in
failing to account for this phenomenon — evolution simply “is” and
works with the natural laws that nature provides. Computer science
might be another story, but then the technique you suggest would no
longer be “genetic programming” that mimics to some extent evolution.
Your suggestion also may fall into the trap of discovering only local
optima of function. Limiting the equivalent of mutation or potential
variation to “what has worked in the past” eliminates the adventitious
discovery of entirely new solutions. Similarly, who is to provide the
“foresight” to predict what may work in the future? What you suggest
seems to be exactly what human designers attempt to do in their daily
lives. The genetic programming techniques of computer science were
developed to augment or supplement human problem solvers in tasks
where the traditional “evaluative memory” strategies don’t seem to be
Perplexed in p 2012-06-10 09:34:16
I’m not happy with that word “foresight” since it is evocative of
fortune-telling or perhaps of “inspiration”. I would prefer to say
that what is involved are “models” that provide guidance as to what
will happen if we try something that has never before been tried.
Well, back before genetic algorithms became popular, the field of
“classical AI” sought to capture that “guidance” in an algorithm.
A good example might be the “General Problem Solver” of Newell, Shaw,
and Simon. I think that this work captured a good deal of the truth
about human (intelligent) design and problem solving.
But at the end of the day, no good human designer actually trusts the
designs that he has come up with. So he builds a prototype and tests
it. And, if the prototype fails, it is “back to the drawing board”.
So ultimately, there is not that big of a difference between us and
Nature/NS after all. We both ultimately depend upon empiricism. If
it works, we keep it. It is all trial-and-error.
I think that you are claiming that human designers can accomplish a
design using fewer trials and fewer errors. Very true, but there is
a cost. As compared to what nature comes up with, human designs are
simple and pedestrian. Nature, with a much larger “empirical testing
budget”, and less constrained by models and past experience, sometimes
comes up with designs that exploit whole new patterns of interaction –
whole new physical phenomena that have never been utilized before.
Also, I think that we have to admit that Nature is working in a much
more challenging design space than anything humans have yet attempted.
Her designs have to feed themselves, fend off predators, repair themselves
and grow to adulthood from a single egg (all the while feeding, fending,
Your goal in your posting was to highlight the differences between
“intelligent design” and “design by natural selection”. My opinion is
that it is also worthwhile to highlight the similarities. To my
mind, the similarities are strong enough so that I like to say that
design by natural selection IS intelligent design. Nature IS an
intelligent Agent. Or better, there are a whole pantheon of intelligent
Agents (one per species) busily designing and redesigning the biosphere.
Tim tyler 2012-06-11 05:48:00
What has been missing in the past from evolution.
These days we have genetic engineering.
We can apply the full range of design strategies available to us to
organisms’ genomes – and in some cases we are doing exactly that.
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Dkomo 2012-06-11 05:48:07
I’m not sure why you use the word “suggestion”. I’m not suggesting that
this is the way human design should be carried out. I’m attempting to
identify the main characteristics of the way such intelligent design
*is* carried out. And getting trapped inside local optima is a
universal problem not just of human design, but of genetic algorithms
and biological evolution as well.
Which can be remedied by brainstorming and applying lateral rather than
vertical thinking during the design.
Similarly, who is to provide the
It seems to be a characteristic of the human mind to be able to
“envision” the future. Such visions often provide a target for the
design process. That’s part of what I meant by foresight. Also,
foresight can be plain ordinary prediction — an extrapolation from what
worked in the past to what probably will work in the future.
What you suggest
Dkomo 2012-06-11 05:48:12
Part of foresight is ordinary prediction. Part of it is specifying what
the design is to be in advance. The spec then serves as a target for
the design process. Finally, foresight could be a fairly complete
conceptual model which can be simulated or iterated in the mind’s eye
before starting the design proper.
I would prefer to say
Yep, building models, whether physical or conceptual, and running those
through simulations would be part of it.
Since when does evolution build prototypes of organisms before actually
“trying them out”. Evolution completely lacks foresight and simulation ability.
Because nature can use massive parallism to explore an immense search
space. It can literally “experiment” on tens of millions of species
simultaneously. And it has tens of millions of years in which to do it.
These significant advantages over what humans have to work with.
But we can produce a complex design directly with very little trial and
error. Given a design spec for a digital filter, for example, we merely
feed the parameters into a computer, and presto voila there’s the
filter. Nature has absolutely no capability to do this.
And what do you suppose humans could come up with if they had hundreds
of millions of years of continuous designing? As it were, we went from
the discovery of electricity to today’s computer chips in about 200
years. That’s many orders of magnitude faster than nature could it (if
she could do it at all). Actually, you could say nature did evolve the
silcon chip indirectly by evolving man, but it took her 3.5 billion
years starting with some basic biochemical ingredients.
It’s more important to point out that human design is an emergent
behavior of evolution a number of levels above the base level of
biological variation and selection.
It could be said that nature is herself intelligent because is composed
in part of billions, if not trillions, of intelligent organisms. But
this could quickly get us into a philosophical argument. Is the
universe itself a Great Mind? There have been many philosophers of the
past who have thought so, and these were not theists.
Dkomo 2012-06-11 05:48:24
True, nature has evolved genetic engineering indirectly by first
evolving a highly intelligent primate who can practice it. That’s
progress! :-> From now on evolution will be relying a little less on
trial and error.
Who ever said evolution is directionless? Well, it may have been
directionless in the past, but now…
Tim tyler 2012-06-11 05:48:32
Here you are using terminology which divorces man from nature.
I know there’s a long tradition of that – going back to Darwin and
beyond. However I wish people would stop using such terminology.
One of the Darwinain revelations is that man is part of and a
product of nature – not something apart from or divorced from it.
That’s more like it 😉
A useful perpective. The evolutionary process has become intelligent.
No longer can it be argued that evolution can’t perform fitness
evaluations under simulation – or that it lacks foresight, aims
and goals. Those things may have been missing back in the dark
ages, true – but these days the process includes intelligent agents
that have these attributes and abilities – and their actions can
influence the path evolution takes.
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Perplexed in p 2012-06-11 05:48:37
Ah! This evokes some thoughts. One area of human designing that I
have some familiarity with is computer software and hardware design.
Such designs are typically very complex and heirarchical. IMO, they
are the only examples of human designs that even approach the complexity
of the designs produced by NS.
There are currently three competing models for the best design practice
to be used in computer software system design. These are “top-down
design”, “bottom-up design”, and “incremental design”.
In “top-down design”, you proceed somewhat as you have suggested.
You start with a specification of what the system is supposed to
accomplish. You then break the task down into subsystems, carefully
specify what each of those subsystems is supposed to accomplish, and
carefully specify the interfaces between the subsystems. This completes
design at that level, but the task of designing each subsystem remains.
You keep designing lower and lower level subsystems until you reach
“bedrock”. Then you are done. Clearly NS does not use a process remotely
similar to “top down design”. Top down design has the property that
you cannot even begin testing your design until the whole thing is
In “bottom-up design”, you start with a much vaguer specification of
what the overall system is supposed to accomplish. You proceed to do
a rough division into subsystems, but you only vaguely specify what
each of these subsystems is supposed to do. You barely specify the
interfaces between subsystems at all.
Next, you choose the most challenging or interesting of those subsystems,
and design that. Continuing in this way, you eventually reach “bedrock”
on one tiny sub-sub-system. You have implicitly specified the behavior
of that subsystem and the interfaces of that subsystem with the rest of
the system. Stepping back up a level, you revisit the design at that
next higher level. The completed specification of one subsystem and its
interfaces now acts as a constrait allowing you to revise the division
into subsystems. Now choose the most interesting of the remaining
undesigned subsystems, and iterate on it.
Moving up and down the tree in this way, you eventually complete the
design. As compared to the top-down approach, this bottom-up approach
does result in the early completion of some subsystems, and it does
permit empirical testing of those subsystems before the entire design
is complete. The downside is that it doesn’t allow much design
parallelism. Furthermore, you frequently get some unpleasant surprises
when you get around to designing the “uninteresting” subsystems which
had been put off until last. You discover that what should have been
a simple piece of the system has become an impossible piece, since the
frozen interfaces of the already designed subsystems with which it
interacts just don’t provide what the final “easy” subsystem needs.
I might note that the problem-solving algorithm of the General Problem
Solver (Newell, Shaw, and Simon) is a tree-walking process similar to
the “bottom-up” design process that I have described. I will also
note that “bottom-up” design doesn’t match very well with what Nature
does either. But one frequently sees objections to NS in which the
objector seems to assume that Nature’s design process must be
“bottom-up”. These people seem to assume that subsystem designs must
be complete before the overall system can work. How, they ask, could
nature have produced feathers before there were wings to use them, and
how could wings have arisen before there were feathers to make them
As compared to “top down design”, “bottom up design” permits less
design parallelism. If the interfaces and specs of each subsystem
are specified before design of the subsystem starts, then there
is no reason why multiple subsystems cannot be designed in parallel.
But you get into trouble if you attempt bottom up design in parallel.
The interface specifications flowing from below will not match each
Finally, we have the new ideology of “iterative design”. This is a
fairly new idea arising in association with something called “Extreme
Programming”. The idea here is that you get something up and running
as quickly as possible. It doesn’t necessarily do everything that
the ultimate system will do, but at least it does SOMETHING. Then
proceed to make improvements to this design. Each stage of the process
produces a system that does a little more, or does it more efficiently,
or is restructured so as to make further progress possible. At each
stage, we are designing some new subsystems, redesigning existing ones,
and occasionally completely revising the interfaces between subsystems.
Subsystems may even become obsolete.
It is interesting that in this ideology, it is not only the design and
the system that evolves. The target specification evolves as well.
Continual interaction with the “customer” or marketing (a customer
surrogate) is considered essential to the success of this approach.
Of the three approaches, this one permits testing earliest, and it
permits a greater amount of design parallelism than does the
“bottom-up” approach. It does involve a lot of building of components
that you are later going to revise and discard – for this reason it
is probably better suited to software designs than to the design
of space probes.
It can be seen that this “iterative design” approach has a lot in common
with the way that Nature does Her designs. About the only thing that
I can see that is different is in the mutability of interfaces between
subsystems. “Iterative design” requires that interfaces are occasionally
completely revised – sometimes without much change to the resulting
functionality. But Nature seems to find it much more difficult to
revise her interfaces. In this regard, Nature’s approach seems to have
more in common with “bottom-up design”.
Guy hoelzer 2012-06-11 05:48:51
This is a side comment directed at the Subject of this thread, rather than
any of the previously posted comments. IMHO it is both arrogant and without
any scientific basis (empirical or theoretical) to distinguish between human
design and natural design. This false distinction is based on the notion
that humans somehow stand outside of nature.
Jim mcginn 2012-06-11 05:48:53
Is there any such thing as unintelligent design?
Jim mcginn 2012-06-11 05:49:03
False. Evolution is a design process. The fact that humans are
capable of designing is because they were produced by the process of
evolution to have this capability.
Phil roberts, 2012-06-11 05:49:16
But we do, don’t we? Isn’t there a sense in which we are above nature
everytime we resist a natural impulse such as fear, anger, s**, or
what have you, to achieve, not just a prudential aim, but a “noble”
Perplexed in p 2012-06-11 05:49:22
”Unintelligent design” does sound oxymoronic. However …
Based upon my experience in the computer software field, particularly
in the testing of software products, I would have to answer: Yes! In
fact, downright stupid design is the norm.
Tim tyler 2012-06-11 05:49:24
….I’d say evolution probably failed to qualify as a design process on
points 1-4 – at least until the development of sophisticated nervous
systems – but /maybe/ could be classified under point 5.
Of course these days, evolution can produce organisms which
show the appearance of design – and are actually designed 😉
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Perplexed in p 2012-06-11 05:49:34
”Prototype” may carry some incorrect connotations. But Nature does start
by building one innovative organism. Then, if that one is successful,
Nature does further testing by building a few more. Eventually it may
move into “test market” mode in which whole ecosystems are populated
mostly by the latest revised model. And if that testing is successful,
the product is tried in other markets too. Nature rolls her designs
into full scale production only after extensive empirical testing.
A lot of the testing involved in human design is of the same nature.
“Simulation” by testing of small sample populations. Sometimes the
simplest and best “simulation” of something big is to actually try it
on something small.
Dkomo 2012-06-11 05:49:36
Heard of emergence?
Perplexed in p 2012-06-12 00:56:59
Simply collecting together a bunch of intelligent components does not
bestow intelligence on the collective. Anyone who has looked at human
organizations knows this.
Intelligence and mind are emergent phenomena. Human intelligence is
an emergent property of collections of pretty stupid neurons. The
intelligence of Nature, if it exists, is emergent from the workings of
natural selection on lots of mindless organisms. I see no evidence
that Nature became any smarter when organisms became smarter. And
contrary to what Tim is suggesting, I doubt that human interventions
in Nature’s workings will be “smart” at all from Nature’s perspective.
Anthony cerrat 2012-06-12 00:57:23
Hi y’all. I have been following this thread with great
interest (particularly Perplexed in Peoria the analogy to
software design–’tis certainly a fascinating subject to
toss around. Now as to distinguishing between human design
and natural design, I disagree with the statement, “…it is
both arrogant and without
any scientific basis (empirical or theoretical) to
distinguish between human design and natural design”, simply
because there is no such thing as a “natural design.” It
actually is merely a question of good and proper English.
From dictionary.com :)) :
a. A drawing or sketch.
b. A graphic representation, especially a detailed plan
for construction or manufacture.
2. The purposeful or inventive arrangement of parts or
the aerodynamic design of an automobile; furniture of
but elegant design.
3. The art or practice of designing or making designs.
4. Something designed, especially a decorative or an
5. An ornamental pattern. See Synonyms at figure.
6. A basic scheme or pattern that affects and controls
or development: the overall design of an epic poem.
7. A plan; a project. See Synonyms at plan.
a. A reasoned purpose; an intent: It was her design to
practice on her own as soon as she was qualified.
b. Deliberate intention: He became a photographer more
accident than by design.
9. A secretive plot or scheme. Often used in the plural:
designs on my job.
Source: The American Heritage Dictionary of the English
Language, Fourth Edition
Copyright 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
Now I don’t object to creating new words or figures of
speech (do it myself all the time, but I always try to
remember to carefully define exactly what I mean) but it
shouldn’t be done if it utilizes contradictory or incorrect
language in the process.
A design is a “plan” or it’s otherwise purposeful, reasoned,
or deliberate–QED. No plan, no intention, no purpose in any
way. ID would be a complete oxymoron. Case closed. No
offense, but I also wouldn’t say, “This false distinction is
based on the notion that humans somehow stand outside of
nature.” It’s simply that it is an improper distinction
because of the word design–I don’t think it’s based on the
distinction that humans “stand outside nature” though,
because it might be otherwise be argued to hold because of
the fact is that humans succeed from nature (in time;) it is
however based on teleological and anthropocentric views of
nature vs. humans, which is certainly antiscientific.
Just my 2 cents…plus a few bucks, …tonyC
Dkomo 2012-06-12 00:57:34
Prototype in the sense of model. It can be either a conceptual model or
a working physical model. Nature doesn’t model.
But Nature does start
This is a stretched analogy. I suppose you could say that an organism
with a mutation is a prototype of a new version of that organism. But
it’s not a prototype which is a model of the real thing. It *is* the
real thing. A model wouldn’t have all the structure and function of the
design it was imitating.
The closer analogy is that nature rushes straight into production with
the new version. If it survives, nature makes more of it, otherwise
This is not a design process like the human one.
That’s just it, it’s not simulation the way simulation is normally
defined. It’s building the real thing and seeing if it survives.
Guy hoelzer 2012-06-12 00:57:37
in article firstname.lastname@example.org, dkomo at email@example.com
Sure. It is one of my favorite topics, and it is IMHO a natural phenomenon.
Therefore, I don’t see how emergence would remove humans or anything else to
the outside of nature.
Guy hoelzer 2012-06-12 00:57:42
Tony seems to have misinterpreted my point. To put my point another way:
humans are part of nature so anything designed by a human is a manifestation
of natural design. Humans and Nature are hierarchically related and not
alternatives. I would write the specification hierarchy as
[Nature[Humans]], indicating that no aspect of humanity is unnatural.
in article firstname.lastname@example.org, Anthony Cerrato at
Guy hoelzer 2012-06-12 00:57:45
in article email@example.com, Phil Roberts, Jr. at
Sure. We make false distinctions all the time. Constructing and using
categorization schemes that are arbitrary with regard to natural structure
can even have heuristic value for a while. However, the heuristic value is
eventually used up and scientific progress then requires giving up the
scheme. IMHO it is also useful to recognize the falseness of schematic
distinctions even as the scheme is being usefully applied.
No. There is nothing unnatural about either those impulses or the fight
against them. IMHO tensions of this sort are universal, whether or not they
are cognitively manifested.
Tim tyler 2012-06-12 00:58:27
I don’t know – aren’t our brains the product of nature as well?
One natural system is overriding another one – I don’t see anything
particularly unnatural about that.
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Anthony cerrat 2012-06-12 00:58:35
Sorry Guy, I did know that, and agree with you. I was just
trying to add some extra remarks in addressed to the
original or previous poster on the comments re: “nobility”
of man, etc. Should have directed and cited it more
properly. Your outline of the specification hierarchy as
[Nature[Humans]] completely captures what I meant re: ID
though–I like it.
Anthony cerrat 2012-06-12 00:58:42
Exactly right. Emergence is simply the visible aspect of
order appearing due to the inherent order not visible on a
lower scale. And it’s not got anything to do with “design”,
i.e., intent, purpose, deliberation, thought, intelligence,
etc etc. It’s like the separation of oil and water into two
ordered phases due to the existing physicochemical
properties in our universe (and on lower levels, atomic,
nuclear, and quantum ones.) The origin of all these
properties must of necessity be deferred to the universe’s
creation, and thus (at this time) to philosophy or religion,
rather than science. 🙂
This fallacy is why I usually try to pooh pooh the concepts
of nobility or transcendence of humans as an independent
part of nature–it often also comes up in regard to
sociobiology and aspects of evolution in general (ID makes a
nice lead-in to Gaia thy if you’re fond of that, but it’s
certainly unproved and non-provable.) All of these things
are not intentional processes or qualities–like
sociobiology indicating kin altruism, and mothers loving
their babies, they are fundamentally a product of the “dead
hand” of evolutionary bio. It is hard to not believe that
human thought itself is _not_ an intentional or deliberate
process–after all our brain isn’t. This is essentially a
reasonably strong deterministic view of the universe.
Phil roberts, 2012-06-12 00:59:00
Not sure how we got from your agree with me that we actually
do stand outside of nature to false distinctions. If mine is
a false distinction I would think your answer would be no.
I’m not sure how this apples to my suggestion that humans may
indeed stand outside of nature, at least to a greater degree
than appears obvious in other species. Is it your view my
assertion is based on a “false distinction?”
There is no possibility in your explanatory universe that some human
values might actually be maladaptive?
Phil roberts, 2012-06-12 00:59:11
Unless the overriding one eventually produces maladaptive by-products.
This is what I maintained in a previous post in my attempt to account
for the evolutionary role of feelings of worthlessness. Perhaps you
Observation: The species in which rationality is most developed
is also the one in which individuals have the greatest
difficulty in maintaining an “adequate” sense of self-worth,
often going to extraordinary lengths in doing so (e.g., Evel
Knievel, celibate monks, 9/11 terrorists, etc.).
Hypothesis: Rationality is antagonistic to psychocentric
stability (i.e., maintaining an “adequate” sense of self-
Explanation #1: In much the manner reasoning allows for the
subordination of lower emotional concerns and values (pain,
fear, anger, s**, etc.) to more global concerns (concern
for the self as a whole), so too, these more global concerns
and values can themselves become reevaluated and subordinated
to other more global, more objective considerations. And if
this is so, and assuming that emotional disorder emanates from
a deficiency in self-worth resulting from precisely this sort
of experientially based reevaluation, then it can reasonably
be construed as a natural malfunction resulting from one’s
rational faculties functioning a tad too well.
Guy hoelzer 2012-06-12 00:59:23
in article email@example.com, Phil Roberts, Jr. at
I might have misinterpreted your comment. It appeared to advocate the
notion that the distinction between humans and nature is a valid one, while
I am asserting that it is a false one.
Well, this comment was really meant to be more general, rather than being a
direct response to anything you wrote. Nevertheless, I think that embracing
the false distinction between man and nature probably did have heuristic
value in the evolution of human culture, including the origins of science.
I’m not sure how adaptation comes into play here, but for the record I think
that there are plenty of maladaptive traits in nature, including in human
Tim tyler 2012-06-12 00:59:45
Malfunctioning organisms. I should think there’s a case that
organisms going wrong when placed in unfamiliar environments
is also a perfectly natural process.
As you can see, I’m rather inclined towards a Taoist “everything is
However, I would agree that there is a long tradition of contrasting
the natural with the man-made – and if the term “unnatural” is to be
meaningful at all, we had better not have everything in nature being
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Jim mcginn 2012-06-12 20:41:27
Phil, what I think is missing is the underlying rationale
of your assumptions that feelings of worthlessness are
maladaptive. It seems to me that such feelings might be
predicted in a group selected species like us humans.
(Or, possibly, I’m misreading you.)
I don’t dispute this. But you seem to want to attach
this with the label of being maladaptive or as a
malfunction and I see no need or rational for such.
Dkomo 2012-06-12 20:41:43
Let’s back up a bit. First of all, the intent of my original post was
to characterize human design accurately and distinguish it from what
nature does at the level of biological evolution. I don’t see how this
is “based on the notion that humans somehow stand outside of nature.”
That assertion never even crossed my mind. And frankly, I don’t see
that it has much to do with analyzing intelligent (human) design.
The view that nature doesn’t design, but produces organisms that appear
designed is the received view in biology. I put in my post thinking
that it is a conservative position. I don’t necessarily agree with it,
but it gives me a starting point. This is a view that Richard Dawkins
has used many times in his books, and, if I’m not mistaken, so has
Then the view that humans perform intelligent design which is different
from what nature does is likewise, I thought, a conservative view.
What’s so controversial about this view?
I mentioned emergence because emergent processes can operate with their
own laws that are different than the laws in the levels below. For
example, newtonian mechanics is an emergent process of matter in bulk,
as pointed out by Robert Laughlin in _A Different Universe_. Matter in
bulk is governed by newton’s laws, which are quite different than the
laws of quantum mechanics, even though matter is ultimately composed of
quantum particles: electrons, neutrons, protons and so forth. With
matter in bulk we are now in the deterministic world as opposed to the
probabilistic quantum world.
And so I think is the case with the human design: it is an emergent
process with different laws than the random variation and selection that
governs evolution. I’m suggesting that human design can be analyzed
from the viewpoint of a cybernetic control system, and that evolution is
most assuredly *not* such a control system!
Dkomo 2012-06-12 20:41:48
I was responding to this statement of yours from the previous post:
“To my mind, the similarities are strong enough so that I like to say
that design by natural selection IS intelligent design. Nature IS an
intelligent Agent. Or better, there are a whole pantheon of intelligent
Agents (one per species) busily designing and redesigning the biosphere.”
If natural selection IS intelligent design (which I don’t agree with),
then nature better be an intelligent agent, no? And where else could
this intelligence come from than the “billions, if not trillions of
intelligent organisms” in interaction inside the biosphere. I was
thinking here that “intelligence” lies along a continuum, and
intelligent organisms are not just humans, but dolphins, the other apes,
ravens, parrots, and so forth.
Regardless, even if nature is intelligent, the evolutionary process
itself is not, consisting as it does of random variation and natural
Dkomo 2012-06-12 20:41:56
I think I answered this in my reply to Guy Hoelzer today (Wednesday).
Re-reading your post and his, the needle of my pedantry detector has
started to move toward the high end of the scale.
I’m trying to pinpoint the differences between human intelligent design
and the biological evolution which consists of random variation and
selection. If you think this means I’m “using terminology which
divorces man from nature” then you’re being pedantic. If we can’t make
these kinds of distinctions, then let’s just declare “All is One” and
stop wasting our time. And “All is One” is the equivalent of saying
that, for example, nature can perform analytical and top-down design
because humans can. Silly.
I was waxing metaphoric here.
Ah. All is One?
Tim tyler 2012-06-12 20:42:04
Perhaps we don’t share the same definition of evoluiton:
For the sake of following convention, I tend to define evolution as
that which produces changes in the genetic make-up of populations
Nowhere in such a definition does it talk about variation being “random”
or selection being “natural”. In practice, genetic changes can occur in
populations for other reasons apart from these ones.
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Perplexed in p 2012-06-12 20:42:09
Right. For me to say that Nature’s design is intelligent design, I had
better be willing to defend the position that Nature is an intelligent
agent, or something close to that. I am willing. (Actually, I prefer
to think that there is one intelligent agent per species, but that is
beside your philosophical/semantic point).
Well, my intelligence comes from billions or trillions of very stupid
neurons. My intelligence is an emergent property. I believe so is
Nature’s intelligence. Hey, I’m AGREEING with you regarding emergence.
At least I think I am. Why are you giving me a hard time? 😉
Sure. There are degrees of intelligenge. I am not claiming that Nature
is a genius. She is probably no smarter than a raven, though She has been
working at her craft for a long time.
Now you are talking about proper usage of words. I was watching a
golf match over the weekend. The commentator said, “Now that guy is
playing really intelligent golf!”. Perhaps you should point out to
that commentator that it is the player that is ‘intelligent’, not the
Or, since you also seem to be saying that the combination of randomness
and selection cannot result in something ‘intelligent’, perhaps I
should point out that a promising hypothesis regarding the organization
of the brain is that the neurons form connections randomly, but that those
random connections are then pruned by a selective process depending on
how useful they prove to be.
Guy hoelzer 2012-06-12 20:42:24
in article firstname.lastname@example.org, dkomo at email@example.com
Silly??? You have either completely missed the point that Tim and I have
been making, or you have dismissed it entirely without providing any
justification. I will try to make the point again in the context of your
claim here. Humans are as much a part of nature as worms, trees, galaxies,
or anything else you can point to. Humans are hierarchically embedded
within nature, so anything that humans can do can be done by nature.
Perhaps it would be less ambiguous to say that everything that has ever been
done by a human has been done by nature in the very same acts. It is not
that nature has done these things ALSO. Each single act done by man was
also done by nature without repetition. This is why I argued that you were
making a false distinction.
Guy hoelzer 2012-06-12 20:42:40
in article firstname.lastname@example.org, dkomo at email@example.com
Nature designs functional processes/agents in many ways. IMHO, they all
either fall under the umbrella of self-organization or the activities of
self-organizing systems. When you talk about human design, I would put it
into the latter category. Biological evolution expresses a particular set
of design tools (sub-processes), which are indeed not exactly the same set
that humans have traditionally utilized. Therefore, I have no problem with
the comparison you describe here. We can learn about some of the designing
mechanisms that emerge during evolution and use them to our advantage.
Directed molecular evolution is one obvious case in which we have done so.
I agree completely with this sentiment. Of course, I was responding to the
words you wrote and only indirectly to what you had in your mind. Your
words suggested that you were making a false dichotomy between humans and
nature, but if that was not your intent then never-mind (said in the
apologetic tone of the old Saturday Night Live routine).
Apparently you have been receiving a different view than many of us.
These guys (particularly Dawkins IMHO) have done plenty of damage to the
wisdom “received” by many. There is a large literature by many
well-respected scientists which takes that alternative perspective. Neither
these authors nor I are suggesting that nature makes a forward-looking plan
as to how to achieve its goal (increasing entropy being the most likely
candidate IMHO). Instead, the laws of thermodynamics underpin processes of
self-organization toward this end. Humans, and our abilities of conscious
planning for our own emerged purposes, are a consequence of these universal dynamics.
I would say this is not only controversial, but inconsistent with a
scientific view of nature. If you want to argue that humans can do
something that is “different from what nature does”, then you are arguing
that humans stand outside of nature. If you agree that humans are a part of
nature, then anything humans do IS done by nature.
IMHO the laws don’t change, although the rules of operation tend to differ
and each system must manage its unique set of material constraints. I
suspect that we basically agree on your point and that I am taking the word
“laws” to mean something more binding than you meant.
I’m not convinced the the details of this example, but we agree on the basic point here.
I wholeheartedly agree.
I’m not so sure.
Michael nuwer 2012-06-15 12:04:30
It is not clear to me what you have in mind when you refer to “human
design.” What is the object of the design? Do you mean the individual
human who designs a house in their imagination (that is, conceptualizes
the house) and then proceeds to construct the physical structure? Or do
you have in mind humans as a group who have designed, say, modern
computing technology? Would you include social institutions and cultural
rules and norms in the set of objects that are designed by human?
And it is a view that may well apply to human technology and social institutions.
The use, in this thread, of the term “human design” is not at all clear
to me, but if I were to replace it with a notion of a complex
technological system or social organization, then I would maintain that
the ideas of variation and selection may well govern their evolution. Of
course, by changing your definition, I might just be mudding the waters.
But the point that I believe is significant is this: It seems to me that
although _individual_ humans have the ability to design things as a
consequence of the capacity for conceptual thinking, it is not at all
clear that this ability extends to a group or collective entity — at
least not in any straightforward, additive way.
Human engineering as purposeful action lead to human created
technologies, but, it seems to me, there is an important sense in which
it is more useful to say that these technologies evolve and avoid saying
that these technologies are designed. This is, of course, tricky because
individuals use their cognitive abilities to solve particular
technological problems. But I think that it leads to errors if we then
say that humans as a group designed the technology, because to design
implies intentionality and purpose.
Like the evolution of biological organisms, human technology evolves via
a process without intentionality; working only by a self-interested
principle of success (i.e. focused problem solving); yielding systems of intricate adaptive design.
I don’t think human design (that is, complex human institutions) can be
usefully analyzed from the viewpoint of a cybernetic control system.
There are important problems that arise in the modeling of information,
learning and knowledge.
nuwermj at potsdam dot edu
Perplexed in p 2012-06-15 12:04:49
Interesting point. Earlier in this topic, I briefly discussed several
methodologies for the design of computer software. The most recently
popular of these methodologies – iterative design – quite explicitly
is based upon the notion of design as a group activity. And it definitely
does not involve any attempts to produce designs that are more creative
or brilliant that could be produced by an individual. Instead, it
tries to produce designs that are a bit bigger, more robust, and
marred by fewer subtle flaws than an individualist design.
Michael nuwer 2012-06-16 08:37:34
Yes, I saw your comments. Similar discussions are being held in parts of
the social sciences regarding economic and political organization (like
the relationships among business firms and the methods of government
regulation). An advantage of the iterative process over the other two
processes that you discuss is its ability to transmit dispersed
information among and between the subunits.
One thing, however, that was not very clear to me in your discussion,
was who the “you” is that is doing the designing. Because knowledge
exists only in the minds of individual human beings, there is no such
thing as a group mind. Therefore, what we might call group knowledge and
collective design emerges within an institutional framework (a modern
business R&D department or a university lab, for example). “Network
effects” is a big topic in economics these days.
I believe that we need a notion of what some philosophers call
“collective intentionality” to fully understand how collective design
works (and perhaps what the limits of collective design might be). There
is a very big jump from “what I know” and “what I designed” to “what we
know” and “what we designed”. In the group environment, this distinction
is important because each individual will have differing goals and
beliefs as well as different information and knowledge. In fact I
believe that group knowledge is emergent in the sense that it is more
than the sum of individual knowledge.
In another of your posts in this thread you noted that: “… at the end
of the day, no good human designer actually trusts the designs that he
has come up with. So he builds a prototype and tests it. And, if the
prototype fails, it is ‘back to the drawing board’.” I think this is an
important point in the context of group design as well. Such testing is
not only important against a production environment, but it is important
also in the development process as a way of transmitting diverse
nuwermj at potsdam dot edu
Dkomo 2012-06-16 08:38:27
Yes to all of the above.
It’s easier to give examples of human design than define it. Thus I had
in mind software and hardware design; writing of books, articles and
Internet posts; writing of songs, both the music and the lyrics;
creating works of art such as sculpture and paintings; ballet
choreography; making of movies; discovering new mathematical theorems;
discovering new facts of nature, developing theories to explain them,
designing experiments to test the theories; designing houses, bridges,
office buildings; designing new models of cars.
And so on. I’ve probably left a great deal out.
What I don’t consider design is the solving of crossword puzzles or
finding the solution to a math problem.
This is what I call reductionism. It isn’t the only way to view design.
The responses I’ve gotten in this thread and the identical one in
talk.origins pretty much fall on two ends of the spectrum:
1. The holistic view: nature is intelligent and is a designer. Human
design is just one specific example of the self-organization that is
prevalent throughout the natural world. So in this view both nature and
man perform design.
2. The reductionist view: nature does not design anything. There is a
process called evolution which produces “artifacts” that appear designed
but really aren’t. This same evolutionary process extends to
*everything* that man does, including design. It’s ok to consider human
design as special only in terms of the artifacts humans produce, but it
must be recognized that the same mindless processes as in biological
evolution go on in the human world of design.
I started out with a view in my original post that was mid-way between
these two: nature does not design, but man does, and this human design
process is substantially different than biological evolution, although
there are similarities in terms of generating alternatives and selecting
the better ones to attain the final design. The main difference is that
human design involves intentionality and a vision of what the design
should be. This provides a target for the whole process, something that
is entirely absent in biological evolution. This target is why I called
human design a “cybernetic” process.
I think I’ve come to be more sympathetic to the holistic view. I think
it’s the paradigm of the future for biology. The reductionist viewpoint
really doesn’t belong in biology. It smacks of the rapidly disappearing
world view of classical 19th century science.
I don’t agree with this. Design by teams or large social organizations
is just individual design which is pushed up several rungs on the ladder
of emergence. Keep in mind that Minsky wrote a book called _The Society
of Mind_ where he proposed that the human mind was a large collection of
interacting “agents”, so that what appears to be individual design is
actually group design. We consider it individual design only because
these agents are locked inside a single brain case.
I don’t understand why it isn’t clear. Emergence as collective activity
of simple interacting agents is pretty familiar by now.
This may be facile, but I think that group mind and group intentionality
are pretty straightforward ideas. To me design at this level is also a
cybernetic process, and it is not ok to consider it as being similar to biological evolution.
Human technology involves a great *deal* of intentionality! That’s why
it is so different from evolution, which has no foresight or direction
at all. I’m not denying that human design can involve serendipidy as
well, but even if there is *some* intentionality, if you try to tie it
too closely to evolution you make a serious error.
What are these problems?
I have to modify the control system idea when it comes to artistic
design. There may not *be* a target for an artist as there is for an
engineer, for example. The design may just appear straight out of the
“subconscious”. Jackson Pollack and his drip paintings come to mind.
Michael nuwer 2012-06-17 05:05:05
Design implies intentionality, and, it seems to me, that intentionality
is a unique quality of the human mind. Your holistic view is a bit too
much like an Hegelian Absolute. In my view, there is no such thing as a
group mind of which our particular minds are but fragments. That which
appears as group intentionality is in the minds of individual human
beings. Some might see this as reductionism (or methodological
individualism), but I would distinguish it as “embedded individualism.”
Regarding Minsky’s interacting “agents” it is important to keep in mind
that they are set to work by a living being who holds the power to
orchestrate a coordinated purpose. In the social world such coordination
requires social institutions. Traditionally, the view that you are
proposing tends to overlook or minimize the role of social institution
in the development of technology.
Technological development is a non-predictable, non-ergodicity process,
full of fundamental uncertainty, genuine surprise, and dispersed
information. Control systems rely on behavioral assumes that the
embedded individuals share a common purpose in the design process. I
think this is mistake.
Good luck with your project.
Anthony cerrat 2012-06-18 04:05:16
I always keep coming back to the metaphor of cells in a
body. Most people would not consider individual cells as
having intentionality (except metaphorically for teaching or
clarification purposes.) If an analog is needed for the
social world, take a given group of cells acting in
concert–their social “institution” will be an organ.
Similarly, that of a group of organs will be a body; a group
of bodies is a social or work-group.
Each “level” is set to work by the level above it–however,
just as cells, although they metaphorically share a
“purpose” dictated by an organ (functioning well for the
bodies benefit) that is a kind of “autonomic
intentionality,” i.e., not intentionality at all as we know
it–intentionality, IMO, requires self-awareness, as we know
it (real or illusory,) and thus stops at the brain which has
specifically evolved this characteristic. This applies also
to groups of bodies forming a social group; the latter
lacking _self_-awarness as we know it (granted, an
assumption,) also lacks intentionality. As you note, any
purpose which the group may share (excelling in a task etc)
is still created, guided, and controlled by the individual
minds; it does not physically reside in the group per se. ….tonyC
sense in which
and avoid saying
course, tricky because
errors if we then
because to design
level is also a
being similar to
technology evolves via
yielding systems of
intentionality! That’s why
foresight or direction
try to tie it
that evolution is
institutions) can be
there is for an
straight out of the
come to mind.
Michael nuwer 2012-06-19 02:59:29
Hm, an interesting picture. 🙂
I kind of like this phrase. But there are many social scientists who
would see this as too deterministic (people as merely cogs in a machine
kind of view) and therefore negating individual free will. Many others
however, believe that we can talk about group purpose and action, and
still retain a notion of individual free will by employing some kind of
structure-agency framework. It seems to me that there are many
similarities between the social science debate on this matter and the
biological debates regarding the organism-environment relationship.
Thank you for these comments.
nuwermj at potsdam dot edu
Dkomo 2012-06-19 03:00:29
Hegel’s view is “top down”. I was proposing a holistic view that is
“bottom up”. This a view of nature that sees a hierarchy of levels,
where each level is emergent from the levels below.
In my view, there is no such thing as a
I think your view would not be able to explain an ant colony. Where
does the information for the architectural details of the colony reside?
In each individual ant’s mind? Who controls the building of the colony?
What social institutions have the ants developed to coordinate their
Ant colonies are a classic example of emergence. A “group mind” emerges
through the interactions of simple ants. The details of the
architecture of the colony are generated by a *process*. It isn’t
possible to say that these details are distributed across the minds of
the ants, since each ant’s mind is more or less identical and contains
no knowledge of the colony. Reductionism fails miserably to explain
such group mind processes. Emergence is a phenomenon that stands on its own.
Again, we have an emergent process here. There is no living being who
orchestrates a coordinated purpose. Rather, the living being, the “I”,
the concious mind, emerges from the interactions of all the agents, and
thinks itself a unified entity.
There was plenty of predictable, ergodic, certain, unsurprising
technological development in the projects I’ve been involved with.
While the unpredictable elements you describe are there as well, you are exaggerating their importance.