Friday, March 30, 2007

The nature of intelligence and the intelligence of nature

First, a test. I'll show you two strings of text and see if you can determine which one is from a college-educated human being, and which one is from a rhesus monkey.

1) The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog and a partridge in a pear tree.

2) NKLSDK;CMkasdk;FJL;A;Ll;advmkl;sdvjl;sdgl asdf[qEFML; DVL;M,zv<>MYULF

If you chose sentence 1), youre right. Sentence 1) was written by a person and sentence 2) was, well not by a rhesus monkey, but my me mindlessly banging on the keyboard. Sentence 1) used a language and it meant something. It contained information. That's how you were able to tell it wasnt random keyboard banging.

How about the following sentence?

3) Leme volpu marau ripanto sazla sorpo ilme asua pigrtza i'un pirunia i'un punalbero d'pe.

I dont know what it says. But it looks like it means something. It looks like a foreign language. That is, even if I can't understand it, I recognize a rhythm of some sort; a pattern. Enough of a pattern to conclude that some foreign guy typed it and not some foreign rhesus monkey banging away on the keyboard.

And that's just one sentence. What if you come upon an entire book, like a manual that teaches you how to make something--something complicated. Like for instance, a New York cheesecake? Wouldnt you conclude that someone wrote it? That is couldnt possibly be written by some monkey banging away at the keyboard? And yet that's what some of our best scientists don't conclude.

In his book River out of Eden, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins writes,

The genetic code is... a quaternary code, with four symbols. The machine code of the genes is uncannily computerlike. Apart from differences in jargon, the pages of a molecular-biology journal might be interchanged with those of a computer-engineering journal.

And how about this one from someone who might know a thing or two about computers and computer code?

DNA is like a computer program but far, far more advanced than any software we’ve ever created.
That was Bill Gates in his book The Road Ahead.

If this code, this complicated quaternary digital code, can contain meaningful information on how to create everything from single celled bacteria to me and you, and code it in such a way that we can understand it, why can't it have come from some sort of intelligence?

According to evolutionary theory, life on earth emerged from natural causes through random mutation and natural selection. This isnt a haphazard process. Natural selection is nature's engine for change; the mechanism by which living things create themselves. In The Blind Watchmaker, Professor Dawkins believes in design in nature, but not of the intelligent sort. Somehow, evolutionary biologists stop short of ascribing some sort of intelligence to nature. They just couldnt bring themselves to do it despite the digital code that's staring at them in the face, despite the evidence that the earth is behaving like a self-regulating organism.

When eminent environmental scientist James Lovelock proposed that the earth functions as a kind of superorganism and wrote, probably poetically that "the quest for Gaia is an attempt to find the largest living creature on earth," Darwinists came down hard on him, forcing him to tone down his poetic rhetoric to more 'acceptable' language. Darwinists see the Gaia theory as teleological and therefore invalid. But the reason for the objection to an inherent teleology in the theory is primarily philosophical. In fact objections to the theory smack of an argument from incredulity and not from scientific data refuting the theory. I suppose hard-core Darwinists simply refuse to believe in the existence of an intelligence other than the human sort. Pretty arrogant if you ask me.

Truth be told, proving that nature possesses some sort of intelligence is extremely difficult if one does not accept the information in DNA as a proof. How, for instance, can an alien intelligence communicate? Our measure of intelligence is human. We probably won't recognize an alien intelligence if we see one. We can't assume anything about an alien intelligence since it probably won't be using the same patterns of thought as we do. We can't assume anything about its purposes or motivations or what makes them think. An encounter with a planet-sized alien intelligence was explored in that classic science fiction novel Solaris by Stanislaw Lem. The only people who claim to be able to communicate with 'earth spirits' are shamans who, last I checked, still arent being given PhD's in science.


Note: This blog entry came about because Ive been hanging out these past couple of days at Resty Odon's entertaining and informative ExpectoRants. Particularly this entry and this. (I really have to make that clickable list of sites I frequent on this blog. Soon.)

Oh, and sentence 3)? It doesnt really mean anything. I made it up.

Links to references in the main post above later. Got to go. Friday, man.


Jawaharlal Al-Zawahiri said...

nice pun for a title! :) hmm, i have only one comment:

This isnt a haphazard process.

But isn't natural selection/mutation assumed as haphazard?

Jego said...

The mutation part is, yes. It's random mutation. But natural selection possesses an inner logic. If youve got what it takes to survive in a given environment, you get to have babies.