Value is Conserved

I have long been intrigued by the conservation laws. Conservation of energy, momentum, charge, and so forth all seem to point to a more basic conservation, of which they are all instances. I was therefore interested to read in Bill Dembski’s latest book, Being as Communion: A Metaphysics of Information, his discussion of Conservation of Information in search routines. He has apparently demonstrated (I have not read the demonstrations, which appear in the technical literature he cites in the book) that increasing the likelihood of a successful search – i.e., a search that has an object and finds it – over and above the walk of a blind drunkard who is not looking for anything in particular may be accomplished only through additional investment of information in the search routine. This can be done in a number of ways: by a more comprehensive specification of the configuration of the object, or by adding a feedback circuit to the algorithm, or by adding strange attractors to the configuration space (so that the environment of the search itself embodies more information) or some other similar measure. But any such improvements of search efficiency – of the likelihood of success – come at a cost of their own: it takes information to inform the search. At best, then, informed search will cost just as much as blind search, and cannot cost less. But then also if the information added to the routine is not essentially perfect – free of noise and error – then the addition will cost more information than it saves: the overall cost of the search, plus the cost of the search for the improvements to that search, will exceed the cost of random wandering about the configuration space.

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Nominalism contra Everything

The modern crisis all goes back to nominalism. The modern muddlings of clear definitions, confusions of really and essentially different things, and denials of essences or definitions in the first place are all outworkings of the nominalist turn. Once suppose that categories are merely conventional, that universals are merely nominal, that life is never simply black or white, but rather only shades of grey, and you find yourself on a steep and slippery slope to chaos.

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An Eye for an Eye Makes the Whole World Cooperative

An eye for an eye makes the whole world circumspect. But, also, an eye for an eye makes the whole world cooperative, as Robert Axelrod showed with his study of tit for tat and competing strategies using iterated rounds of contests among genetic algorithms (described in his book The Evolution of Cooperation). Tit for tat beat all the alternative strategies, again and again; and as rounds of the contest were iterated, with winning strategies favored by the reproductive mechanism of the iteration, it more and more perfused the population of competing algorithms. As tit for tat increased in frequency, so did the total value generated by all competitors in each round: fewer and fewer defections occurred, and responses to defections were more and more often optimal.

That tit for tat wins the evolutionary game does not mean that its superiority is merely adventitious, an artifact of this or that sequence of random events that might have been quite different, and so generated quite a different sort of winner. On the contrary: provided the game goes on long enough, tit for tat wins every time, sooner or later, and no matter how the sequence of outcomes varies. The utile superiority of tit for tat is a truth of game theory, so that like any other mathematical truth it is from before any and all worlds, and holds true in every world. The metaphysical superiority of tit for tat, then, is the source and reason of its practical evolutionary success, and not vice versa (this is true of all perdurant evolutionary success). Tit for tat is the optimal strategy in evolutionary practice because it is the best in metaphysical fact. As metaphysically best it is the most moral policy of all (these are two ways to say the same thing).

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Taggard on Atheism

In the discussion thread to my post “Atheism is an Assumption, not a Reasonable Conclusion from the Evidence,” commenter Taggard offered a lengthy criticism of my position. Since my response to his response is also lengthy, I offer it here.

In this writing, Taggard reiterates what I described as the basic error of the atheist: sticking with an initial negative assumption in the face of positive evidence.

I reproduce here the full text of Taggard’s comment. My responses are in bold:

Taggard, 9:45 am:

I would like to reply to this article point by point, for the most part, but before I do, I need to lay down some definitions, a basic assumption, and a few statements:

Definitions: Atheist – one who lacks belief in all gods. [AR: This is too thin a definition.  The existence of God is too important for a man simply to “lack belief.” For example, if someone told you that there was a bomb, or a check for a million dollars, in your car, you would not be content just to “lack belief.” You would want to have good reasons for acting in whatever way you choose to act. Atheists act as if they are confident that there is no God.] Agnostic – one who does not know for sure if gods exist. Evolution – the process by which living organisms have developed and diversified from earlier forms during the history of the earth. [AR: As defined by the scientific establishment, “evolution” means that the process was entirely naturalistic.] Abiogenesis – the origin of life. Continue reading

Why gravitational waves from the early universe are a big deal

Today, the BICEP2 team announced the detection of what they claim is an imprint of long wavelength gravitational waves in the polarization of the cosmic microwave background.  If this holds up (a big if:  lots of exciting discoveries don’t hold up when some neglected systematic error turns up), it will be the most important discovery in cosmology since the first evidence for dark energy, and for physics in general I would rate it more important than the detection of the Higgs boson.

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Repost: No Evidence for God?

To piggyback on Bonald’s post below:

At his blog, our Proph recently reposted an item that linked to an essay of mine at the old Intellectual Conservative. Since the old IC was taken down by evil leftist (but I’m redundant) hackers, Proph’s link to my essay is dead. So here is my old IC essay.  Its basic thrust: When atheists claim there is no evidence for God, they are assuming atheism at the beginning, looking at life through atheist-colored glasses, and then seeing nothing but atheism. They are being supremely illogical.

 No Evidence for God?

Atheism now has a confession of faith. Christians say “Jesus is Lord.” Moslems say “There is no God but Allah.” And English-speaking atheists now say “There is no evidence for God.” But are they correct? Continue reading

The Argument from Definiteness

I often find the popular debate between Religion™ and Science™ intensely irritating, because almost everyone on both sides seems to take it for granted that if we have (or might someday have) a scientific explanation for something, then we don’t stand in need of a divine explanation for it; so that the only places where God might possibly play a role in our explanatory scheme is in the bits and pieces of the world that science has not yet explained. And this notion of the “God of the Gaps” presupposes that the merely scientific explanation is exhaustively adequate, at least in principle. But that means that the whole debate is skewed from the get go by an implicit presupposition in favor of naturalism, and is therefore founded upon begging the very question that it proposes to answer.

It’s dunderheaded.

God is not needed first as an explanation of this or that item in the natural order, but rather as an explanation of the fact that there is such a thing as nature in the first place, or that there exists anything at all that might have a nature. If God does not exist, then there can be no explanation of existence per se, or therefore of any of the things that do seem to us actually to exist. If God does not exist, then all we can say of things in the final analysis is that they are what they are, for no particular reason.

Or can we say even that?

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Article on Ancient Atomism

My article on ancient atomism appears at Angel Millar’s People of Shambhala website.  In particular, I undertake a reading of Lucretius’s great poem On the Nature of Things, a strange mixture of bold speculation that anticipates modern physics and cosmology more interesting perhaps for its fairly concerted critique of sacrificial religion.  I offer a sample –


Posterity knows only a little about Lucretius and much of what it knows it gleans from autobiographical references in his poem.  The poem itself is paradoxical.  Alleging to explicate, for the sake of a potential recruit, the scientific truths discovered by Epicurus, the truths that will redeem life for the one who accepts them, On the Nature of Things couches itself in the language of insistent evangelism, making of its intellectual hero, as George Santayana noted in his study of Lucretius in Three Philosophical Poets, a secular saint.  The poem attests a powerful experience on the part of its author, which can only be described as spiritual conversion, which he then wishes to foster in another.  Already in the generation just after Epicurus, his followers acquired the habit of referring to him under the honorific of soter or “savior,” an etiquette that imitated in turn a propaganda device of Alexander’s successors, the Ptolemaic and Seleucid dynasts.  Lucretius, whose time and place knew the afflictions of political breakdown, picks up this thus slightly tainted habit.

Cartesian meditations on the social sciences

I’ve already shared my complaints about the humanities and the natural sciences; now I’d like to turn to the social sciences.  As with these other disciplines, my “problem” with the social sciences has more to do with a general attitude I sense pervading the whole enterprise than with any particular result.  That attitude can be summed up in the following statement:  the correct way to understand a human being or a social system is to look at it from the point of view of a hostile outsider.  The hostile outsider has a privileged perspective.  The ways human beings and social organisms understand themselves are illusions; they are unscientific; they are masks behind which hide the reality of structures of oppression, unconscious desires, blind economic or sexual striving.  Thus, the skill college students are to learn above all else is critical thinking, which basically means learning to assume the perspective of the hostile outsider.  They are to critically question the assumptions of their upbringing (unless, of course, they are from urban Leftist homes).  And if the student decides his inherited religion and ethnic loyalties are defensible?  Well, then, he obviously hasn’t thought critically enough!  The “questioning” of gender roles and inherited tradition has a predetermined outcome.

Needless to say, social scientists–psychologists, sociologists, political scientists, anthropologists–are, by and large, my political enemies.  However, my ultimate objection is philosophical.  I don’t disagree that one can study human beings in terms of their psychic desires, or that one can study societies in terms of economic forces and structures of coercion.  Nor do I deny that some insights can be drawn from this.  What I do deny is that this gives us the ultimate truth about men or communities.  It is an exercise in abstraction, of systematically ignoring aspects of the subject in order to more clearly focus on some particular structure of interest.  The most important thing about a social practice is how it is experienced and understood by its participants.  Even when the things critics claim to find “beneath the surface” are really there, it’s the “surface”–the lived conscious reality–that is most fundamental and most real.

This is even more true when it comes to the study of the individual human being.  I myself have had two types of encounters with psychology.  (My experiences with the psychiatric profession I’ll save for another post.)  First, as a teacher I’ve been exposed to some of the results of research on how people learn.  Overall, this work is empirically grounded and consistent with common sense and my own experience.  The studies of memory, cognition, visual perception–basically of any type of mental activity that we humans are conscious of performing–also seem relatively healthy by soft science standards (although I am here speaking without much knowledge).  On the other hand, as a reactionary I am also exposed to psychological claims purporting to explain my authoritarian, homophobic pathologies.  That I might actually have reasons for my beliefs is dismissed out of hand.  This type of psychology demands that human behavior have explanations rather than reasons.  The explanations involve my unconscious fear of new experiences, my unconscious fear of my father, my unconscious homosexual urges, or some other such unconscious prompting.  None of these claims has any credible evidence behind them, and they all clash with the evidence of direct introspection–hence the recurring need for “unconscious” qualifiers.

“The unconscious mind” is one of those things that people are afraid to question for fear of being thought “unscientific”; I’m sure I’ll shock some readers with even the basic observation that “unconscious mind” is a contradiction in terms.  

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