diumenge, 10 de juliol de 2016

Random evolution or intelligent design?

In this post we focus the issue of the evolution of species, also trying to resolve the dispute between evolution and creationism, a debate that is still very much alive in the United States of America because of religious beliefs; here we follow a point of view both scientific and philosophical. We will use an approach that I think has not been used so far, based on physics, understanding the true meaning of chance, and also, of course, in chemistry, but everything at basic level without technical complications.

Early Evolution: cells

By a random process combinations of chemical elements, at some point on past in Earth  organic molecules was produced, among which were generated complex proteins named enzymes and DNA, key to accurately replicate a living being, which seen from the perspective of Biochemistry, is a self-made and complex system self-maintained by precisely regulated biochemical reactions. DNA has billions of years; evolution, as we know, did not stop with the generation of "smart" molecules, but continued to generate more and more complex systems.  

The generation of the first primitive cell still unsolved mysteries for science, because it does not exist, can not exist, fossils of cells to be studied, because the cell is too "soft", so to speak, for to leave no trace over millions of years. We must assume, and so does science, that spontaneous process described in the other articles in the series continued to generate more complex systems and to eventually generate cells, that is, not just systems complex biochemical but living beings.

In any case, the "blind creator" (random combination) has a clear direction:  generate more complex beings who have a biochemical machinery capable of self-regulation and self-replicating. These two features, although in lesser extent, were already present in proteins and DNA, so that consider a biochemical system as alive or not alive is rather a matter of degree of self-regulation and self-replication and also about "intelligent" interaction with the environment. There is no clear dividing line; it is known that viruses, which are only specialized in parasitize cells DNA, are in a limbo between the living and nonliving, are in no man's land, according to our clear concepts, so because commented inability to draw a line clear dividing. 

Evolution of the species

The "tendency" to generate complexity from simpler components, by the mechanism of mixing random, letting emerge new systems, which can last over time or not, did not stop in the cell, but I went ahead, even more strongly, linking cells in cell colonies, later in various multicellular organisms; to the various cell combinations that share the same structure, encoded in DNA, we call species. Thus, the tendency continued to generate random species, some persisted, many, most, became extinct.

Then, in the evolution of species enters a new factor: natural selection (Darwin's great contribution); this is so because the DNA is programmed to generate an exact copy of the individual, maintaining the species, so the random generation of new bodies would end simply primitive species had been playing no more, no evolution. But it happens that the playback mechanism DNA, being very accurate, is not perfect, occasionally errors, producing mutations occur; these mutations are the origin of new species. The mechanism that "decide" whether a new species must replace the old or is not called natural selection. Thus the enormous diversity of life we see around us is explained by these two mechanisms: the biochemical machinery reproductive DNA and random errors, and natural selection pressure, that "decide" which species will endure.

Evolutionism-creationism discussion

So far we have been following in the footsteps of science, from the creation of first cellar  in the ancient Earth to the Darwinian evolution of species. Even today there are still doubts about this scientific theory, partly because of religious beliefs, partly because of unbelief, because for some people seems impossible that the mere chance has generated everything around us. The positions are closed: people are on one side or the other, so that discussions on this topic are often on, more like a boxing match than an exchange of views. This blog is not devoted to religious themes, but if scientific and also philosophical ones, so let's dare to give our opinion, and we give our attention to such matter of random creation, a prodigiously creative and intelligent process without no doubt. Let me jump momentarily to the field of Physics.  

Light was not, after all, neither waves nor particles

The nature of light was another debate that lasted centuries, indeed millennia since the first theories date back to ancient civilizations. Descartes postulated light was composed of a beam of light particles, and thus was able to explain the laws of reflection, but had problems with refraction; Newton also completed the corpuscular theory explaining the laws of refraction, but could not explain the phenomenon of interference. Huygens, a contemporary of Newton, he was also able to explain the observed phenomena were assuming that the light waves, not particles, but because of the enormous prestige of Newton was not taken into account at that time. Not much later experiments of Thomas Young seemed to tip the balance towards the wave model, especially when Auguste Fresnel gave him the mathematical precision theory, but still continued having distinguished scientists who still believed in the corpuscular theory, as Brenster in England , Laplace, Biot and Poisson in France.

The controversy seemed to be settled with the electromagnetic theory of J.C. Maxwell and Hertz's experiments: the light was indeed a wave of electromagnetic nature. Already in the early twentieth century wave theory stagger again with the discovery of the photoelectric effect and its theoretical explanation by Einstein, again based on the particle nature of light. So, it was an enigma, as some phenomena were clearly explained by the corpuscular theory, and others by the wave. The solution came from the hand of Louis de Broglie, who proposed that the true nature of light was neither wave nor particle, but both at once, so that was presented in one way or another is something depends on the experiment.

Debate random creation and evolution against creationism and intelligent design

Returning to the topic, in the genesis and evolution of life we ​​have another debate: on the one hand observations and evolutionary theories based on pure chance are agree, but on the other hand we have a credibility problem, because if we speak of chance we can speak of probabilities, and that whenever there is a random process, which may arise mixed results so unpredictable principle, we can, at least in principle, properly speak of the probability of occurrence one or the other result. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to accurately calculate the probability that, out of nowhere, appeared a Universe like we have, and within it, life appeared and evolve to the current diversity, but we has made some attempt. Roger Penrose made a rough estimate that from the Big Bang explosion appeared a stable universe, look at it is only required to be stable, that is, that does not consist in a "soup" of radiation where matter and antimatter destroy each other, and then reissued in an endless cycle, where the matter could never survive; this probability is about one in between 10¹²⁸ ... this value is incredibly close to zero, is a zero comma ... a hundred and twenty seven zeros and then, the number one:

0,000000000 ...(a hundred and seven more zeros)... 000000001

This data makes us doubt that the current Universe is generated uniquely by a random process; I do not know any similar calculation for the probability that the primitive cell was created from inert material by mere chance appears, but knowing that even a cell is an organism of incredible complexity, seems clear that the probability is of the same order or even lower. Given that the probabilities of successive independent events are multiplied together, we find that the probability that this stable universe appears, then life in it, would be the product of an amount practically nil otherwise also negligible, and the score much smaller than any of the above, as is evident if we consider for example that 0.1 x 0.1 = 0.01, or 0.01 x 0.01 = 0.0001.

To answer this riddle of probability virtually zero people usually go to the anthropic principle, let me explain it: when Science faces with inconvenient questions, simply is renouncing to answer them, merely answering what Science really do belongs to its sphere of knowledge: observe nature, discovering regularities of behavior, and try to describe these regularities with an exact language. For example, the response from Stephen Hawking to the question "why the laws of the early universe were these and not others?, we know any small change in them, if only one hundredth of 1% would have made impossible the existence of universe and life as we know it" is "we see the universe the way it is because we exist". 

Not only random evolution or creationism or intelligent design only, but both

The proposal given here to resolve the debate is to take a position similar to that solved the riddle of the nature of light: the creation was not only entirely random nor entirely intelligent creation, but both, coming to light one aspect or another depending on how we look. Indeed there is a random process acting on a "building materials", generating new elements, but there is also something else that marks an arrow, a vector, a direction, towards complexity and stability of creation. Otherwise the dilemma of zero probability has no answer. To understand it better, we deepen a bit on the true meaning of the word random, their concept associated.  

In Quantum Physics randomness is an intrinsic property of Nature, but in Chemistry is not, instead, all the chemical reaction are causal: the products are obtained from the sources, given a set of conditions, in a well defined way. So, if we are speaking about randomness related to the field of Biochemistry, indeed we are talking about a combination of unforeseen circumstances that exist previously, unpredictable for us but they are there, acting, and combining with each other to produce definite results.

A circumstance is a condition, detail, part, or attribute, with respect to time, place, manner, agent, etc., that accompanies, determines, or modifies a fact or event; a modifying or influencing factor (http://www.dictionary.com);

The circumstance is always linked to a fact or event, "something"; so we have a "something" and their circumstances, which are combined together unpredictably. What is that something underlying? What we are pointing out here is that whenever we speak of the action of randomness as an explanation of a phenomenon, we are actually stating that there is something that manifests itself in the form of circumstances that, for us, are unpredictable, we can not predict, a priori, its manifestation, which however occurs. Therefore "explain" the whole evolution shrugging, saying "it's pure randomness", and nothing else, is in fact an abuse of language, that randomness is not an explanation of anything, it's just a form of manifestation of somewhat, which it can be foreseeable or unforeseeable. And this is not "philosophy" is simply knowing the true meaning of the words we use.
Thus, the thesis advocated here, in brief:
  • There is a "something" underlying, inherent, pre-existing, in all the creation of the diversity of life
  • That something evolves by random interaction of its various manifestations
  • In that randomness however there is a predetermined direction leading to increasingly complex manifestations, producing cells from proteins, and complex life from cells; seeing the results of such direction, in some way we can name it as "intelligent direction", because produce high ordered complexity. 
  • Contemporary Science, pragmatically, empirically, traditionally is not been able to access that something that manifests, has only had access to the results of the demonstration, has seen only randomness, and renounced go beyond; this is perfectly right, but trying to extrapolate, as many scientists do, this limitation of science pretending that nothing more exists because science can not see it is wrong.
  • The combination of scientific knowledge with philosophical thinking can lead us to a better understanding of creation and evolution of life.



divendres, 3 de juliol de 2015

Is there a limit to the intellectual knowledge?

The achievements of the intellect seems to have no limit, the era of knowledge is coming, as the successor to the current information age, which in turn happens to the industrial era. Will we have the answers to all the questions? Who knows ... but in my humble opinion, the mere intellectual knowledge has its limits, and in fact we have already achieved. Let me explain.

Intellectual knowledge
What is intellectual knowledge? Well, answer this question is an issue that goes into the field of philosophy of knowledge, but this raid will be no problem, since the aim of this blog is to explore the area located between Science and Philosophy. For the purposes of this post I'm content to give a brief definition, otherwise a full discussion of intellectual knowledge would lead us not only to fill the post, but a long series of them. Simply to say:

Intellectual knowledge is objective, it is based on the creation and use of mental objects. The intellect has the cognitive capacity: the intellectual subject generates an abstraction of the external object, called cognitive image. In addition, the rational capacity of the intellect is able to relate objects of knowledge, discovering causes and effects between them, which leads to generate new knowledge independently of the outside world.

As an example of this definition, we have the scientific knowledge, which from empirical, objective and verifiable data, concepts such as laws of nature, equations are generated, etc. Linking these laws, scientific rational capacity produces new theoretical knowledge, which subsequently attempts to verify experimentally.

Are there other knowledge than intellectual knowledge?
Before raising the limits of intellectual knowledge, naturally the question of whether there really is another kind of knowledge, a difficult question to answer ... it arises from an intellectual perspective. Well. Put your attention on a seed, any seed. A seed is a plant but potentially; the germination process is automatically triggered when the appropriate circumstances arise for it; and is a complex process of creation of highly specialized and highly organized cells cooperate to keep the plant alive. We know this complex process is scheduled, encoded in the DNA of the plant; ie that the seed contains a development program contains complex information, structured, it contains the exact knowledge of how to create a plant from the soil, air and the sunlight. This knowledge, existing in the seed, is not intellectual, has not been generated by applying any rational capacity, instead, was generated in the course of evolution of life, and was generated before there on our planet any rational being . Another thing is that the scientist, using their rational capacity, understand the germination process, acquiring intellectual knowledge about the process. But the process itself needs no intellect at all.

Natural Sciences and Technology
We see that Nature gives us a clear example of not intellectual knowledge, as indeed all creation around us, not only the germination of a seed, it contains huge amounts of not intellectual knowledge. Our own body is another complex example; Medical science is studied, streamlining its processes, work is not yet finished, because there are still many open questions. The universe has its own laws, there is a knowledge for to be discovered. As the reader may have noticed, one of the theses that I maintain here is that:

Intellect does not create knowledge about Nature, it really does it is try to convert a natural knowledge, no rational, to a rational form, identifying the Nature's knowledge, and strives to rationalize, to give a rational way with which to we can understand.
We discover laws of nature and give them a rational way, we do not create laws of nature.

Of course, I am speaking of scientific knowledge, as in the technique does exist intellectual knowledge creation: when, for example, Antonio Meucci invented the telephone, he did not discover anything that previously existed, but applying his rational capacity created a new concept and a new technological advance.

In the limit of intellectual knowledge?
Since the early twentieth century physical science, in his exploration of the limits of matter and energy, began to discover some natural laws which are unintelligible, that is, events that go beyond the cognitive ability of the intellect, we can say that we don't really understand the new laws. Until then this had never happened: all the discoveries are rationalized and understood, there were no laws of nature that could not be understood rationally. But in the last hundred years the progress of mathematical physics toward laws which defy our common sense has been unstoppable. Currently, a professional physicist does not really understand many of the laws he do use daily, simply accept them as a working tool, in an absolutely pragmatic way.

Who understands, really, that time itself does not exist? It exists as a counterpart to the physical reality known by the name of space-time. In fact, neither the space-time has an independent existence, but is related to the presence of matter and with a mysterious force of nature, gravity. We have equations describing all this as a result of the rationalization of empirical observations, and discovery, also rationally, theoretical relationships between equations. But we've lost along the way, so to speak, intellectual understanding.

Who understands, really, quantum mechanics? As the Nobel Prize in Physics Richard Feynman said, "If you think you understand quantum mechanics ... then you do not understand quantum mechanics." We have the same: equations, we have streamlined a truly baroque behaviour of matter and energy on a very small scale, which is itself an impressive achievement of the intellect, but instead we had to give to understand it.

It is for this reason that I dare say that we have reached a tipping point where the rational capacity is generating knowledge that is no longer understandable, even for experts in the field. What sense is not understandable? If we consider the understanding as the rational capacity to relate the subjective contents of the mind with the perceived external reality, and integrate them into a structure with meaning, then the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics are not fully understood, as we can not relate such knowledge with our reality; even more, its claims collide head-on with our empirical experience of everyday life. For us, time and space exist as separate entities.

In a way it is logically so, because the intellect are exploring areas of knowledge that are far beyond the original scope which is intended: the nearby world of objects that surround us. We do not have the ability to really imagine what it must be a black hole in space, a region of the universe where space-time collapses, because it is a very strange concept to our usual environment. This leads, in my opinion, to ask two important questions for their consequences:

  1. Is it possible that our intellect, or our brain, or both, evolve in the future so that we can really understand the physical aspects of reality that are beyond our understanding now?
  2. If, however, it is not possible to understand new discoveries, so this limitation will in future be decisive, and prevent us advance knowledge of reality?

As for the first question renowned physicist Leonard Susskind formulated an idea: the brain and the mind also are highly customizable, so the idea may be well founded.

The second question is what causes this post; in fact as we have said the last one hundred years we have made new discoveries in fields that are not intelligible, in the sense that has been exposed. It therefore appears that it is not necessary to understand the nature for you to discover its laws. The scientific rational method is able to create theories that represent very well the behavior of the universe even without really understanding it. However, the conceptual "rarity" of current theories seems a problem for the average citizen from, that at most only have a glimpse of them in a science fiction books and movies, which frequently are not good references. Do not forget the science books, including bestsellers by Stephen Hawking ... if they have read, they understood really?

Why is it so complicated?
Besides the "strangeness" of physical theories, there is another aspect that catches my attention, and I present here: why is it so complicated to understand nature? And now we are no longer talking only about the scope of physics, but science in general. Even the most trivial events, when they want fully understood rationally, become so complicated that we need to study a career and become specialists in the subject, and even then often we will find difficulties. Some examples:

  • We remove the cap of a water reservoir; a swirl around the drain is formed: a vortex. The exact details of the swirl, diameter, length, speed of water on it, etc, are complicated. They can be treated reasonably well in certain special cases, but overall it is an open problem, which even made conferences and symposia problem (see eg International Conference on Vortex Flows and Vortex Models).
  • We observe how a seed germinates; broadly understood is a phenomenon, at least superficially, since antiquity, but to know the exact details need advanced knowledge of genetics and biochemistry.
  • We see a sunrise, the sun lights up again another day; but really, how the sun produces light? Again, you must have advanced knowledge of nuclear physics and astrophysics to respond.

Watching this complexity of reality, at least from a rational point of view, raises some questions about the intellect:

  • The complexity we see, is inherent, intrinsic, or only apparent? Perhaps our intellect is not ready to understand exactly all the issues, because it is only a little precision instrument; because of this, we need years of training in a college dedicated to learning limited to a field of expertise that have taken millennia to occur knowledge. Therefore, we see the complexity would be produced by the inadequacy of the instrument used.
  • Are there other possible ways of gaining knowledge that are more affordable, less expensive, to our understanding?

I leave open to consideration these last two questions. Finally, one last example of technical complexity to describe electricity and magnetism in the presence of gravity:

Equations of electromagnetism in the presence of gravity, using tensor magnitudes are differential and partial differential equations.