Thursday, November 29, 2007

Stupid creationist ideas
--Joe Meert

I've heard a lot of young earth creationist ideas in my life and so compiling the top 10 most idiotic claims/research by the YEC crowd is not easy. So here they are (in no real particular order)

1. Catastrophic plate tectonics- John Baumgardner, an otherwise decent geodynamicist, has proposed a jelly-like mantle during the flood. In this scenario, continents are zooming around like jet-airplanes while the mantle releases tremendous amounts of heat in a global flood. The story of Noah fails, of course, to mention any of this and also to avoid the obvious buoyancy issues of underwater volcanic eruptions with large gas emissions. Noah, in his floating structure never even noticed any of this! So desperate are the creationists to explain all of geology in a flood framework that they've abandoned all reason.

2. Noah's Ark- It's not so much a claim as it is a blind following of a borrowed myth (from the Sumers) about a man building a boat because his god is pretty pissed off. The obvious problems of 8 people caring for all of the created kinds on the boat (food, water, excrement) are all hidden away in some dark 'feasibility analysis' by evolutionist cum creationist Jan Peczkis (aka John Woodmorappe). Woody claims that each of the 16,000 animals on the ark require only 7.2 seconds to care for (that's shoveling a lot of ---- literally and figuratively) John's wonderful statistical analysis manages to convince the brethren that the median size animal on the ark is a rat in order to solve the space problem. Woodmorappe probably borrowed the statistical analysis from his 1995 evolutionary article in the Journal of Vertebrate Palentology (written under his real name Jan Peczkis). There is so much wrong with this story that the mind boggles that anyone would try to show its feasibility.

3. Baraminology- This half-hearted attempt by creationists to develop a Linnean classification scheme for 'created' (bara) 'kinds' (min) was used to make young earth creation sound more scientific. In reality, this is a way in which they can place humans in a distinct classification in order to make them special (the apobaramins).

4. Vegetarian Carnivores- Yes, Virginia, t-rex was a vegetarian along with all the other meat-eaters! Here's what Mark Looy had to say about the T-rex:
"We call him our 'missionary lizard,' " Looy says. "When people realize the T. rex lived in Eden, it will lead us to a discussion of the gospel. The T. rex once was a vegetarian, too."

The Original "Salad Shooter"?

5. Rapid Radioactive Decay: In order to rescue a young earth something had to be done with radioactive decay. The obvious choice is to make radioactive decay not constant! So, the RATE group has worked hard to show that decay rates are not constant and may have been faster in the past. No one seems to wonder that if decay rates can change to be faster, they may also have been slower in the past. Rapid radioactive decay also presents a heat problem. Interestingly, a creationist by the name of Robert Gentry claims that decay rates are constant and therefore the short half-life of Polonium shows that some rocks were created instantaneously!

6. Wedge Plan: Often dubbed 'creationists trojan horse' or 'creationism lite', Intelligent Design is an attempt by creationists to establish a theocracy in America via scientific sounding publications. The Wedge Document, originally a private communique between the ID groups main politicians was leaked onto the web back in the 1990's. The ID folk have since tried to play down its importance, but the poor handling of this document (and the fact that they wrote it at all) has got to be one of the stupidest things the intelligent design creationists have ever done.

7. Evolution is the root of all evil: This argument has various permutations within the creationist community. Creationist Carl Wieland gives us the 'mild connection' argument in the following quote:

Creationists are often accused of making a false connection between evolution and the various social evils of our modern world.

The charge is that we are claiming evolution causes immoral behaviour, holocausts, and the like. Is this AiG’s stance? Do we think evolution causes such things? Not directly; sin is of course responsible. But evolutionary thought permeating a culture will inevitably lead to a magnification of the effects of sin in one form or another. For one thing, it weakens the shared cultural restraints that arise out of a commonly adhered-to basis for morality.

Invariably, this argument always leads to discussions about Hitler, Stalin or any other megalomaniac. Evolution is always blamed for the evil perpetrated by these individuals. The argument is so nonsensical that I always make the point that when creationists trot out this canard, they have already lost the argument.

8. Evolution leads to Atheism: This one is so silly, but the idea is deeply embedded in the creationist mind. The minute someone begins to discuss evolution in a positive way, the creationist will assume (more often than not) that the evolutionist is an atheist. The plot is all to familiar. The creationists with some knowledge of creation literature will try to argue the problems with evolution and those with no knowledge will simply offer to pray for you and tell you about hell.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Grape Microwave Plasma:

Friday, November 23, 2007

Ere Time began, from flaming Chaos hurl'd
Rose the bright spheres, which form the circling world;
Earths from each sun with quick explosions burst,
And second planets issued from the first.
Then, whilst the sea at their coeval birth,
Surge over surge, involv'd the shoreless earth;
Nurs'd by warm sun-beams in primeval caves
Organic Life began beneath the waves.

First HEAT from chemic dissolution springs,
And gives to matter its eccentric wings:
With strong REPULSION parts the exploding mass,
Melts into lymph, or kindles into gas.
ATTRACTION next, as earth or air subsides,
The ponderous atoms from the light divides,
Approaching parts with quick embrace combines,
Swells into spheres, and lengthens into lines.
Last, as fine goads the gluten-threads excite,
Cords grapple cords, and webs with webs unite;
And quick CONTRACTION with ethereal flame
Lights into life the fibre-woven frame. --
Hence without parent by spontaneous birth
Rise the first specks of animated earth;
From Nature's womb the plant or insect swims,
And buds or breathes, with microscopic limbs.

--Erasmus Darwin, The Temple of Nature* (1802) Canto I.IV lines 227-250

ORGANIC LIFE beneath the shoreless waves
Was born and nurs'd in ocean's pearly caves;
First forms minute, unseen by spheric glass,
Move on the mud, or pierce the watery mass;
These, as successive generations bloom,
New powers acquire and larger limbs assume;
Whence countless groups of vegetation spring,
And breathing realms of fin and feet and wing.

--Erasmus Darwin, The Temple of Nature* (1802) Canto I.V lines 295-302

From thus meditating on the great similarity of structures of the warm-blooded animals, and at the same time of the great changes they undergo both before and after their nativity; and by considering in how minute a portion of time many of the changes of animals above described have been produced, would it bee too bold to imagine, that in the great length of time, since the earth began to exist, perhaps millions of ages before the commencement of the history of mankind, would it be too bold to imagine, that all warm-blooded animals have aristen from one living filament, which the Great First Cause endued with animality, with the power of acquiring new parts, attended with new propensities, directed by irritations, sensations, volitions, and association; and thus possessing the faculty of continuing to improve by its own inherent activity, and of delivering down those improvements by generation to its posterity, world without end!

--Erasmus Darwin, Zoomania** (1794)

*Written 57 years before his grandson, Charles, published his Origin of Species.
**Written 65 years before his grandson, Charles, published his Origin of Species.

Was somebody stealing granddaddy's ideas?

It's not stealing if it's family... That's evolution :-)

Saturday, November 17, 2007

This post is in response to blog-trawler Mitchell’s fairly extensive comment on my previous post on AGI, which brings up some excellent points. It’s fantastic to know that others are thinking about this sort of thing. Because this allows me to address points in a more expansive manner, this is not a comment, but a full-blown post. Wow… Let's get started.


Mitchell: “1. We need big new ideas to understand consciousness, but not to achieve AGI. Some patchwork combination of already known algorithms and architectures will be sufficient for the latter.”

What you said is (unfortunately for AI researchers) largely true, because, IMHO, intelligence and consciousness are only incidentally related. The fact that we are self-aware is only a tiny part of the picture. There are many processes considered intelligent of which we are only vaguely aware; for instance, when I run to catch a Frisbee, I do not consciously perform the necessary calculations that allow me to know the exact velocity and direction I need to take to catch it, however, I (usually) catch the Frisbee. I’m fairly sure dogs don’t perform these calculations, either. However, we can catch and throw things with ease, with no explicit awareness of our inherent mathematical ability to do so. (This is likely because mathematics is a man-made abstraction, complicating otherwise simple phenomena, but that’s another story.) It’s significantly easier to build an intelligent system than a conscious one, which is why AGI is a realistic goal for the next 25 years, whereas artificial general consciousness (AGC... I just copyrighted that) is likely not going to be.

Mitchell: “2. The natural sciences, as presently constituted, cannot explain consciousness, because they are reducible to physics, and you cannot even get basic sensory qualities like color out of existing physics, which is conceived only in geometric and algebraic terms.”

Agreed. Well, we’re screwed on this one for now, aren’t we? The existence of metamers, etc., makes this pretty irrefutable.

Mitchell: “3. This can be overcome if the quest for the neural correlates of consciousness is combined with the study of consciousness as it presents itself to the individual. Phenomenology is a guide to ontology - whatever entities and relationships do exist in reality, we know that those which show up in consciousness must be among them. Conversely, physics can be reduced to a mathematics largely independent of ontology - all we need is for some part of the mathematics to relate to observations. Therefore, a phenomenological ontology of conscious states has a unique ability to tell us what physics is really about, by telling us what NCCs, physically described, really are. The relationships between ontology and physical formalism established in the case of NCCs could then, one hopes, be extended to the rest of physics.”

Well, wouldn’t this just solve everything? If I knew the answer to this one, I would be rich, successful, and my robot would be doing lines of coke with my Nobel Prize certificate. The problem with this, obviously, is that no matter what, we’ll probably never know it if we’re right. Unless, if we’re lucky enough, these radical changes and breakthroughs are made.

Mitchell: “4. The key to understanding consciousness (which I take to be an aspect of your concept of sentience) thus turns out to be something which must come, at least in part, from within. I might go further and suggest that the key is to be found in the concept of self. The intuitive pre-scientific experience of the world can be roughly described as an experience of things through the senses and an experience of the self through thought. The scientific experience of the world focuses very much on things, even though it employs thought to make progress. When science attempts ontology, it attempts to explain everything using concepts developed on the thing side of the thing/self dichotomy. But in fact a whole other set of concepts - such as 'sensation' and 'thought'! - can be developed by making the self the object of investigation. The synthesis of physics and ontology will lie in knowing some NCC-like thing, formally described in the sense-originated language of physics, to be the very same "thing" known introspectively as the self.”

To clarify, consciousness is *not* a part of sentience. Several definitions that might be necessary for this type of talk are:

Sentience (sentire, "to feel"): refers to utilization of sensory organs, the ability to feel or perceive subjectively, not necessarily including the faculty of self-awareness

Sapience (sapere, "to know"): usually defined as wisdom since it is the ability of an organism or entity to act with judgment

Self-awareness: is the explicit understanding that one exists. Furthermore, it includes the concept that one exists as an individual, separate from other people, with private thoughts

Intelligence: a property of mind that encompasses many related abilities, such as the capacities to reason, to plan, to solve problems, to think abstractly, to comprehend ideas, to use language, and to learn. There are several ways to define intelligence. In some cases, intelligence may include traits such as: creativity, personality, character, knowledge, or wisdom. However, some psychologists prefer not to include these traits in the definition of intelligence.

Consciousness: a characteristic of the mind generally regarded to comprise qualities such as subjectivity, self-awareness, sentience, sapience, and the ability to perceive the relationship between oneself and one's environment

So despite all the talk of “sentient machines”, consciousness is not a necessary component. To a degree, motion sensors are sentient. However, this is just easy enough to be no fun (unless you’re DARPA). I’m personally a fan of not only sentience and intelligence, but fully sapient, self-aware, *conscious* machines.

Science does indeed focus on “things”; that is the long-established aim of science. While Big Science gets all the headlines now, it will only lay the foundations for AGI (AGC?), once we’ve done all the major steps, like reverse engineer the brain, etc. Luckily, increasing numbers of philosophically-minded rogue cognitive scientists (at least at the Univ of Chicago) are wandering in this direction.

Mitchell: “5. However, it is not likely that this degree of insight is necessary in order to achieve AGI, nor do I think it likely that an entity must actually possess consciousness to have intelligence as presently understood - because intelligence is presently understood in terms of functional competence, the ability to solve problems or achieve goals. Earlier, I distinguished between experience of things and experience of the self, though they are both just aspects of experience as a whole. Similarly, one could talk about intelligence regarding things and intelligence regarding the self - meaning a capacity to get the facts right, solve problems, etc., involving things or self, as the case may be.”

Agreed. AGI is likely to be significantly easier to work on or understand than consciousness, if only for the extreme lack of tools we have to determine whether or not something is self-aware.

Mitchell: “6. In AI it is sometimes argued that self-intelligence is the key to consciousness - the day when Cyc knows that propositions about "Cyc" are about itself, will be the day when Cyc wakes up. I do not agree, and until one has an ontological theory of selfhood, this is actually just mysticism. I can certainly exhibit a toy ontology in which this would not be so: simply suppose that consciousness is always and only monadic (i.e., that the only things which truly have consciousness are elementary in some sense), but that we assemble groups of these elementary things into causal aggregates which have the ability to report correctly on their own properties as an aggregate. Functionally this is self-intelligence, but ontologically it is not.”

Hm. I’d agree at first glance, but I’m uncertain as to how parallel the situations are. If the monadic “things” can report only on the properties of the aggregate, the point stands. However, I don’t think that any AI researcher – well, okay, Minsky doesn’t count – would seriously assert this. If so, well, no wonder we haven’t got intelligent machines running around already – they’re complicating the issue wildly. AGI is not the hardest goal. Consciousness is.

Mitchell: “7. Revisiting proposition 1: we don't need big new ideas to achieve AGI, but we do need big new ideas if we are to understand what we are doing when we do it. We know enough to copy it functionally, but not enough to understand it ontologically. This has to be a dangerous situation, because even the most benevolently programmed AGI will still be capable of making a mess if its ontology is wrong.”

This is indeed the consensus when it comes to AGI/AGC. Is it possible that we will create a conscious machine and not realize it? Entirely. Is it smart to take steps to try and prevent such a discovery from falling through the cracks, or to refute the religious fanatics who will swear that a machine can never be conscious? Absolutely.

The situation will indeed be dangerous; no doubt the first AGI’s we create will be utterly, completely, fantastically insane. God help the poor thing when they first hit the “Run” button. Why? Because we’re bad programmers. However, after much vision and revision, we may well have a genuinely generally intelligent machine. The functional approach is likely to be the most successful, but it is also, unfortunately, the one we are least likely to understand.

What, then, do we do? We will likely need to pour more of our mental resources into understanding such things as consciousness overlap, abstraction theory of intelligence, ontologies of self and unified theories of mind. The biggest obstacle is that we have no concept of what consciousness is, in our own minds or anyone else’s. We can try to think out of the box on this one, but we haven’t even found the box, nor do we know if one exists.

Opinion Statements:

- Programmers will not approach this the right way for at least another generation; the stigma in the hard sciences against such things as psychology, phenomenology, etc, will prevent this from occurring, until people stop caring.

- People are likely to get discouraged and quit; the more we learn about the brain, the further and further away an understanding begins to seem.

- There are most likely “laws” of the mind; we should not underemphasize unified theories of cognition.

- Everyone should read Aristotle. With a grain of salt handy.

- Think about the Fox and the Crow. You know, the fable your mom read to you when you were little. Why are we impressed by the Fox? Modules, prediction, and abstraction theory. It’s as old as time.


I leave you with an encouraging quote, from that fantastic and popular (in 1997) book, Darwin Among the Machines:

“In the game of life and evolution, there are three players at the table: human beings, nature, and machines. I am firmly on the side of nature. But nature, I suspect, is on the side of the machines.”

--George Dyson, Darwin Among the Machines

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

So... Artificial Intelligence. An outdated term, perhaps, but a recognizable one nonetheless, and will be used here in its original sense. I tend to prefer artificial general intelligence (AGI), to maintain the distinction between the search for genuine sentience and strong artificial intelligence, and the desire for limited (but unquestionably useful) applications of AI.

Where does artificial intelligence stand today? Surely it has become more of a fanciful term, a sci-fi author's meal ticket, a crazy scientist's late-night obsession. The grand promises of the 1950's have yet to be realized, for the mind is a complicated game.

Sure, there has been progress. In October of this year, the simplest universal Turing machine was proved (by a 20-year-old undergraduate, no less). Government agencies such as DARPA are pouring millions into both general and specific AI, from the Integrated Learner, to DARPA's Grand Challenge. Ray Kurzweil and Ben Goertzel are shouting news of the Singularity from every street corner. Silicon Valley's prematurely-rich are getting bored and doing AI research of their own (see Jeff Hawkins' Redwood Neuroscience Institute). Social networking sites such as Second Life are becoming foster homes for baby AI's. Google is the new Bell Labs. Roboticists and computer scientists are finally beginning to collaborate with neuroscientists and cognitive scientists. Throw developmental biologists and philosophers into the mix, and we've got something serious beginning to cook. Could the age of strong AI be here at last?

The problem with progress in this field, I think, lies not with our ability to create intelligent machines -- not yet. We must first transcend the disciplines we divide our science into; it is almost shameful for a person to admit to being interested in philosophy or psychology... at least to anyone involved in mathematics, computer science, computational biology, or physics. The arrogance with which those in the "hard sciences" assert themselves is not only unseemly, it is dangerously counterproductive. The tension between disciplines is aggravated by this behavior, and the knowledge and wisdom of each is neatly sectioned into membranes as exclusive as the disciplines themselves.

May I be forgiven for all the time I looked down my nose at those in the social sciences or the humanities. May we hubristic scientists somehow prove ourselves worthy of the knowledge possessed by those immersed in the study of the human mind. May we somehow overcome our need for labels, our desperate desire to climb the scientific hierarchy, our need to satisfy ourselves with the knowledge that our work takes the most math or processing power to complete.

May we overcome the desire for the latest fashion in science: interdisciplinary teams of researchers, churning out papers with 20+ authors, treating scientific knowledge like a cheap, trendy accessory. Do take a moment, if you've got one, to read this spectacular article by Sean Eddy, a scientist who refuses to conform to one discipline. Some choicier quotes from the article:

"Progress is driven by new scientific questions, which demand new ways of thinking. You want to go where a question takes you, not where your training left you."

"Molecular biologists even worried about what to call themselves, like we argue over whether we're computational biologists or bioinformaticians. Any revolution needs to find the right slogan to unify under. Francis Crick explained, 'I myself was forced to call myself a molecular biologist because when inquiring clergymen asked me what I did, I got tired of explaining that I was a mixture of crystallographer, biophysicist, biochemist, and geneticist, an explanation which in any case they found too hard to grasp' [4]."

"Perhaps the whole idea of interdisciplinary science is the wrong way to look at what we want to encourage. What we really mean is "antedisciplinary" science—the science that precedes the organization of new disciplines, the Wild West frontier stage that comes before the law arrives. It's apropos that antedisciplinary sounds like "anti-disciplinary." People who gravitate to the unexplored frontiers tend to be self-selected as people who don't like disciplines—or discipline, for that matter.

One can't deny that science is getting more complex, because the sheer amount of knowledge is growing. But the history of science is full of ideas that seemed radical, unfathomable, and interdisciplinary at the time, but that now we teach to undergraduates. Every generation, we somehow compress our knowledge just enough to leave room in our brains for one more generation of progress. This is not going to stop.

It may take big interdisciplinary teams to achieve certain technical goals as they come tantalizingly within view, but someone also needs to synthesize new knowledge and make it useful to individual human minds, so the next generation will have a taller set of giants' shoulders to stand on. Computer science mythologizes the big teams and great computing engines of Bletchley Park cracking the Enigma code as much as we mythologize the Human Genome Project, but computer science rests more on the lasting visions of unique intellectual adventurers like Alan Turing and John von Neumann. Looking around my desk at the work I'm trying to build on, I do see the human genome paper, but even more, I see the work of individual pioneers who left old disciplines and defined new ones—writing with the coherence, clarity, and glorious idiosyncrasy that can only come from a single mind."

Amen, amen...

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The greatest of all things we treasure
Is time spent alone and at leisure;
No joy can supplant it --
No breath gone for granted --
Sweet solitude heals without measure.

01000010 01100101 01100011 01100001 01110101 01110011 01100101 00100000 01001001 00100000 01101011 01101110 01100101 01110111 00100000 01111001 01101111 01110101 00101100 00100000 01001001 00100000 01101000 01100001 01110110 01100101 00100000 01100010 01100101 01100101 01101110 00100000 01100011 01101000 01100001 01101110 01100111 01100101 01100100 00100000 01100110 01101111 01110010 00100000 01100111 01101111 01101111 01100100 00101110

And had it been, it would have been,
a most extraordinary day.
That day, that Once, so long ago,
the day that never was.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Overexpression of the Cytosolic Form of Phosphoenolpyruvate Carboxykinase (GTP) in Skeletal Muscle Repatterns Energy Metabolism in the Mouse

Parvin Hakimi , Jianqi Yang , Gemma Casadesus , Duna Massillon¶, Fatima Tolentino-Silva||**, Colleen K. Nye , Marco E. Cabrera||**, David R. Hagen , Christopher B. Utter , Yacoub Baghdy , David H. Johnson||, David L. Wilson||, John P. Kirwan , Satish C. Kalhan , and Richard W. Hanson 1

From the Departments of Biochemistry, ¶Nutrition, **Pediatrics, Neuroscience, and ||Biomedical Engineering, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Cleveland, Ohio 44106-4935 and the Department of Gastroenterology/Hepatology and Pathobiology, Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Cleveland, Ohio 44195

Transgenic mice, containing a chimeric gene in which the cDNA for phosphoenolpyruvate carboxykinase (GTP) (PEPCK-C) (EC [EC] 2) was linked to the -skeletal actin gene promoter, express PEPCK-C in skeletal muscle (1-3 units/g). Breeding two founder lines together produced mice with an activity of PEPCK-C of 9 units/g of muscle (PEPCK-Cmus mice). These mice were seven times more active in their cages than controls. On a mouse treadmill, PEPCK-Cmus mice ran up to 6 km at a speed of 20 m/min, whereas controls stopped at 0.2 km. PEPCK-Cmus mice had an enhanced exercise capacity, with a VO2max of 156 ± 8.0 ml/kg/min, a maximal respiratory exchange ratio of 0.91 ± 0.03, and a blood lactate concentration of 3.7 ± 1.0 mM after running for 32 min at a 25° grade; the values for control animals were 112 ± 21 ml/kg/min, 0.99 ± 0.08, and 8.1 ± 5.0 mM respectively. The PEPCK-Cmus mice ate 60% more than controls but had half the body weight and 10% the body fat as determined by magnetic resonance imaging. In addition, the number of mitochondria and the content of triglyceride in the skeletal muscle of PEPCK-Cmus mice were greatly increased as compared with controls. PEPCK-Cmus mice had an extended life span relative to control animals; mice up to an age of 2.5 years ran twice as fast as 6-12-month-old control animals. We conclude that overexpression of PEPCK-C repatterns energy metabolism and leads to greater longevity.

Received for publication, July 25, 2007, and in revised form, August 21, 2007.

For details see the article by Hakimi et al., pages 32844–32855.