Specified Complexity and SETI

18 07 2008

Note: I am not writing this because I’m an EVOL EVOLUTIONIST ATHEIST. I’m not an atheist, although I am an evolutionist. See my About page for more details.

I’m still in caffeine withdrawal, so, again, please forgive any grammatical errors.

Young-earth creationists have a distinct animosity towards SETI, for obvious reasons. The project is contrary to their whole understanding of biology, and it receives what probably looks to them like an obscene amount if money for an endeavor doomed to failure. This is understandable. However, when coupled with a fundamental misunderstanding of natural selection, it leads to intense hilarity. For some reason, Jonathon Safarti, author of the popular Answers in Genesis book Refuting Evolution, seems to be under the impression that there is an implicit conflict between the two ideas espoused by SETI that, on one hand, life can increase in complexity via evolution, and on the other, that complex signals are likely to have originated from an intelligence. Here’s the quote:

People detect intelligent design all the time. For example, if we find arrowheads on a desert island, we can assume they were made by someone, even if we cannot see the designer. There is an obvious difference between writing by an intelligent person, e.g. Shakespeare’s plays, and a random letter sequence like WDLMNLTDTJBKWIRZREZLMQCOP. There is also an obvious difference between Shakespeare and a repetitive sequence like ABCDABCDABCD. The latter is an example of order, which must be distinguished from Shakespeare, which is an example of specified complexity. We can also tell the difference between messages written in sand and the results of wave and wind action. The carved heads of the U.S. presidents on Mt. Rushmore are clearly different from erosional features. Again, this is specified complexity. Erosion produces either irregular shapes or highly ordered shapes like sand dunes, but not presidents’ heads or writing. Another example is the SETI program (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). This would be pointless if there were no way of determining whether a certain type of signal from outer space would be proof of an intelligent sender. The criterion is, again, a signal with a high level of specified complexity—this would prove that there was an intelligent sender, even if we had no other idea of the sender’s nature. But neither a random nor a repetitive sequence would be proof. Natural processes produce radio noise from outer space, while pulsars produce regular signals. Actually, pulsars were first mistaken for signals by people eager to believe in extraterrestrials, but this is because they mistook order for complexity. So evolutionists (as are nearly all SETI proponents) are prepared to use high specified complexity as proof of intelligence, when it suits their ideology. This shows once more how one’s biases and assumptions affect one’s interpretations of any data.

I don’t see how one can write two books concerning the scientific validity of evolution and not understand natural selection. Perhaps it was simply a moment of confusion. But regardless of why it’s been set forth, it has. The error is here: there is no natural selection process that drives signals towards complexity. They don’t reproduce in the same way that organisms do, there’s no incentive for them to develop greater complexity in order to better survive. Therefore, the overwhelming probability is that a complex signal was created by an intelligence. The same applies for sand dunes. If sand dunes in forms that resembled presidential heads could better survive the ravages of time, then they would most likely be in these forms. Sadly, they don’t, and therefore, none are known to have formed via natural processes. This is also applicable to arrowheads and cars. Seriously, guys, if you’re going to write about evolution, please understand its basic premise.


17 07 2008

I’m currently attempting to break myself of caffeine addiction, and seem to be suffering from caffeine withdrawal, so please forgive any grammatical errors or the like.

But to the subject matter posthaste: I’m, again, writing about Time Cube. I have a perverse fascination with it, largely because it’s like reading the thought processes of a lunatic. I mean, that’s pretty much what it is.

Gene Ray, Doctor of Cubicism, has followed in the footprints of James Randi, and offered the sum of $1000 to the first individual to show his theory to be incorrect. Sadly, the majority of it appears to be non-falsifiable, and therefore, no one has, thus far, claimed this prize. However, he makes one claim that is easily demonstrated to be true or false, which is that (-1)2=+1. This, being a simply formulated mathematical statement, can be concisely and conclusively proven wrong. This is what I shall proceed to do, with the enhancement of lovely graphs. I don’t know if this will qualify me for the prize, or whether or not he’ll actually pay me if it does, but in the event that I do, and he follows through, I will donate 70% of the money to charity.

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16 07 2008

If you’re one of those individuals, like myself, who pretty much lives on the Internet, you may have come across an interesting website known as Time Cube. This involving work is the brainchild of Gene Ray, retired electrician, and self-proclaimed Wisest Man on Earth. It sets forth a radical new theory of everything, which essentially states that… erm… well, it’s rather difficult to determine exactly what it states. However, it appears to be predicated upon the fact that the Sun appears in a different location depending on where you are on Earth. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, the Earth is divided into time zones! One might suggest that this is the consequence of the spherical nature of the Earth, but that would appear to be because we’re all STUPID and EDUCATED. No, geometry has nothing to do with it, it’s because each quadrant of the Earth rotates by itself. You see, Gene Ray has noticed that the day can essentially be divided into four portions, sunrise, noon, sundown, and night. These, by the way, are not at all arbitrary, because our perception of the sun obviously transcends silly things like “relativity”, “mathematics”, and “position”. Now, seeing as it’s always one of these somewhere on Earth, and each quadrant is, for some reason, immutably and objectively placed on the Earth, and a fundamental and transcendent unit of measurement the Earth goes through four days every day. This, as described above, is not the result of geometry, but apparently the result of some sort of hyperspatial rotation caused byu the biunding of the earth into squandtants qsoiefhjqasdopgjopi’a AUUUUUUUUGHJHGHHHGHGHHFGHHGHHGHGH0oidahfkalsdfgkhasjl;g.

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5 07 2008

So, I saw WALL-E yesterday. It would have made me cry if I hadn’t managed to create an active block of the part of my brain that allows me to do so, something that I sincerely regret. 😦 I did tear up, however.

…I should write more, and I intend to, but currently I’m being dragged out of the house to see fireworks. Happy war day, everyone!

P.S. love the Peter Gabriel song at the end. I had to say that.

Update, 1:02 EST, 7/47/08: I am, sadly, too tired to write anything at the moment and reasonably expect it to look coherent in the morning. C’est la vie. I’ll get back to this tomorrow.

Update, 3:05 PM EST, 7/5/08: I’ve decided I’ll do this in segments.

Sorry for the lack of new posts…

11 04 2008

…I’m suffering from a large workload and massive writer’s block.


1 04 2008

Apparently, Google has finally, in conjunction with Virgin, become involved in the space colonization effort, with a 100 year plan to develop a permanent Martian base. Sadly, my application to become a pioneer failed, but I encourage you to try. Oh, and the project is open source.

I have discovered that this entry is the top hit for a Google search for “response to virgle“, which is pretty cool. In light of the fact that that should direct some traffic my way, I’ll expound upon the topic, so that visitors aren’t disappointed.

Most probably, the majority of people see the Virgle page, think “Hah, that’s funny,” and move on without a second thought. However, if one stops to consider it, it’s really not a particularly insane plan — taking advantage of the billions of dollars held by venture-oriented technology business such as these to engage in space exploration. If I recall correctly, both of them have already engaged in rudimentary endeavours of this nature, and so getting them involved in a larger project, together, should not be a particularly monumental task. The drawback to this plan is the placement of the various responsibilities inherent in space exploration in the hands of private, particularly corporate, enterprise, but with the hostility towards the public funding of anything that is deemed, however erroneously, as unnecessary, it might be a necessary sacrifice. When the revolution comes, the rights will be placed back with the collective, anyway.

To be strictly serious, the lack of public funding for space exploration is abhorrent. I can understand trepidation to consume funds unnecessarily, but in the case of space exploration, such fears are risibly unfounded. Man is, at his heart, a reasoning creature, and we have an inborn desire to understand the Universe. One of the most singularly awesome methods of satiating this desire is to explore the cosmos, and there are certain aspects of our knowledge which indeed require us to do so to fill them. If you have ever read a science fiction of a certain caliber — 2001: A Space Odyssey, for example — you’ll quite likely have experienced that to which I am referring — the overwhelming wonder that we gain from the unknown, and the overwhelming yearning to explore it, to expand out knowledge of it.

On a less metaphysical level, space exploration allows us to develop tool, such as advanced medicines, that can be used to vastly improve the condition of the human race. And yet, we supply NASA with massively inadequate funds, and thus deny ourselves these benefits, simply through the ignorance, or pandering, of our politicians.

I feel quite strongly about this, in case you can’t tell. But to conclude, I think that a Virgle-like plan would be excellent, if we cannot gain more public funding for space exploration. I’m not a big fan of private enterprise in this realm, however…

(Note: Please tell me if I was incoherent or grammatically inaccurate in any of the above. I wrote this rather quickly, so I may have slipped up.)


31 03 2008

I’ll admit it, I’m highly excited about the impending opening of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, and especially at the prospect of the Higgs boson finally being discovered — or not, which has the potential to be just as revealing. It appears, however, that some people don’t share my enthusiasm. This isn’t anything new, by the way — the same sort of fretting occurred prior to the opening of the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider in the US.

Now, concern over the possibility of a doomsday situation is not, I’ll concede, entirely unfounded (although it is quite unnecessary). The two main fears concern the formation of microscopic black holes — mini black holes, as they’re often called — and the production of strangelets, a form of exotic matter which could hypothetically catalyze a chain reaction which would reduce the entire Earth to a lump of hot strange matter. The hazard of the former is pretty much precluded by the laws of physics as we know them (although the black holes could hypothetically be formed), whereas the latter is not really worth discussing, for a wide variety of reasons.

I don’t blame the average person for worrying about the possibility of black holes being formed; after all, don’t black holes simply consuming everything surrounding them? Couldn’t they eat straight through the Earth and start to devour it from the interior outward? Well, no. There’s something called Hawking Radiation, which essentially causes all black holes to evaporate over time. It works something like this: what is generally thought of as empty space is not empty in actuality, it is seething with shortly-lived particle-antiparticle pairs, known as virtual particles. These virtual particles can briefly coalesce out of energy borrowed from the vacuum, which has an classical energy level (to coin a phrase, I believe) of zero. Of course, the particles are not technically allowed to do this — the first law of thermodynamics, correct? — but they do it anyway, which illustrates some very odd phenomena in quantum mechanics. The caveat is that they must immediately make restitution, so to speak, and return the energy in debt to the vacuum. Accordingly, they immediately annihilate one another, at which point the whole messy situation is swept under the proverbial rug.

Except when a black hole is involved. If this is the case, when the pair of virtual particles is formed with sufficient proximity to a black hole, in the infinitesimally brief period of time in which they exist, one can cross the event horizon, at which point it is inexorably sucked towards the singularity of the black hole. This frees the other particle in the opposite direction, towards infinity. Obviously, this poses a problem: under normal circumstances, the particles annihilate each other, leaving us with a lovely, pristine vacuum with its lovely, pristine energy level of zero. However, we now have an issue: an energy debt that is unpaid still exists, and the debtor has gone running off into space. We cannot go creating energy (which equates to mass — E=mc2) — but it appears that this is what has occurred. So what can be done about it? It turns out that the energy debt is filled, and that the energy comes from a convenient source: the black hole that consumed the particle originally. Enough energy from the black hole is released to fulfill the debt, and this phenomenon, occurring over and over again, will, by logical extension, be compounded over time to the eventual evaporation of the black hole. It also turns out that, the smaller the black hole, the more rapid the evaporation. So, hypothetically, mini black holes would evaporate due to the Hawking Radiation before they could cause any significant damage. Bear in mind, however, that this is all strictly theoretical, as the Hawking Radiation has never been actually observed. However, it makes sense, without any significant problems, so it is most likely the way that things are. (Edit: Pol Lambert has informed me, via his comments below, that the waveforms of elementary particles may not fit inside black holes of this size at all, doubly precluding danger. Thanks, Pol.)

Concerning strangelets, no one is actually sure that the catalyzation described would actually occur, and furthermore, if they did indeed behave is such a manner, the probability of a strangelet being produced and becoming issue is minute, in the vicinity of that of winning the major prize in the lottery three weeks in a row.

There is no real cause to be concerned about the LHC, especially as it could produce such monumental gains in our understanding of the Universe. This is not something to be discarded over unfounded, spuriously-based fear, and I sincerely desire that this post will have allayed any that you possess.