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“It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn't feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.” – Neil Armstrong (1930-2012)

Fresh Reads from the Science 'o sphere!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Redundancy Redundancy

I think that creationists who support the concept of irreducible complexity don't really understand what their idea entails.

They seem to think that a biological system (or subsystem) is made up of absolutely interdependent and indispensible components - if any of these parts was suddenly removed, then the whole system would fall apart.



















Even a cursory glance at reality tells us that this is not true.

People don't disintegrate if their fingers, hands or arms are chopped off - indeed they can stay alive for a while even if a critical organ like the liver is removed, otherwise organ transplants would be impossible.

But assuming that some irreducibly complex system can be found, it still doesn't follow that the system could not have developed via stepwise evolution.

To illustrate this: imagine that you have been appointed as the CEO of a large corporation today, and you decide to sack the entire sales department immediately.

This would inflict a severe wound on the company which can cause the whole company to collapse if competent replacements are not quickly found. That's because the critical functions of a corporation have been delegated to departments which have become highly specialized and optimized over time.

Clearly, finding such an irreducibly complex corporation today doesn't mean that it MUST have poofed into existence by supernatural means!

It just means that roles of its members have gradually changed over time.

When the company was in its infancy, it had only a few staff members.

Everyone helped out to do sales, so there was no sales department.

That wasn't particularly efficient but it didn't need to be, because a small company simply didn't require (and couldn't afford) a proper sales department.

Likewise, hundreds of millions of years ago our simple animal ancestors didn't have any hearts or brains - they just didn't need them. Of course, we won't last long without these critical organs today.

In any case, complex biological systems can tolerate a certain amount of damage or loss of their subsystems because they exhibit modularity (to reduce spill-over effects) and redundancy (to backup some functions).

However, if there exists a system which has absolute component interdependency, no modularity and no redundancy, then the creationists would be right and any small change would bring down the whole shebang.

Such a system cannot be "constructed" by any stepwise process; indeed it cannot be physically constructed at all and must magically come into existence completely intact.

The fact that creationists prefer to assume that biological systems must be organized in such a manner, reflects strongly on their ideology.

**********

In my previous full article about social systems, I talked about some of the problems of an absolute authority, but I forgot to elaborate on the importance of redundancy, which I will highlight in this article.

Absolute authorities are problematic due to the lack of checks and balances, but singular absolute authorities have an additional problem - the lack of redundancy.

If a system contains redundant components, then it will continue running even if some of its components are flawed or missing.

On the other hand, if a system contains no redundancy at all, then the imperfection of one component will lead to the collapse of the whole system.

Thus, people who believe in singular supernatural authorities tend to have a worldview that contains no redundancy and brooks no dissent.

They can only be absolutely right or absolutely wrong, because any "wrongness" of any one part would render the whole belief wrong (although in practice they take on faith that no part of their belief can possibly be wrong).

Seeing the world through such tinted glasses, they expect other social systems to exhibit this same characteristic.

Of course, this is false - even within the area of supernatural belief, people who believe in multiple deities for example, do not share this problem.

Also, systems that do not depend on central authority don't have this problem.

Science, for example, is made up of multiple specializations. In addition, scientific theories and facts are discovered using independent lines of evidence, often employing diverse approaches or technologies.

So if any particular fact, theory or even an entire field is shown to be wrong, it won't bring down the entire scientific endeavour.

Thus, redundancy is a strong defensive move.

This is clearly illustrated in the previous post about investor psychology - diversification helps to preserve capital and guard against the big loss.

Unfortunately, diversification also diminishes the gains from any particular stock, which suggests that singularity is a strong offensive move.

And that is definitely true from the historical point of view - monotheistic belief systems have grown faster and to far greater numbers than any other supernatural or naturalistic system.

My previous articles have already covered the reasons why a centralized and rigid power structure is so effective against a fragmented power-sharing structure.

Since science is driven by evidence, not by central authority and social consensus - thus it mean that, as a social movement, scientific thinking will never be able to compete with supernatural beliefs?

Not quite.

Although science appears fragmented because it cannot in principle have unity through centralized supernatural authority, it can have unity through emergent authority.

A unity of knowledge.

**********

Regular Fresh Brainz readers might have been wondering why I embarked on this odd detour into foreign territory such as sociology and economics in my recent articles.

Well, the gig is up - all these articles constitute the prologue to an original idea that I have been developing for the past ten years.

I had originally planned to hone it in secret and publish it in a book to make a tonne of money, but many events have since transpired that made me change my mind.

Facing a depressing job market and a difficult career ahead, I don't feel confident about the relevance and usefulness of my idea, and so I have decided to post what I've currently worked out to all my readers.

Stay tuned for the first post about FAMILIAR: Fractal-Analog Method of Integrating Limitless Information into Aligned Resources.


Would you like to know more?

Prologue to FAMILIAR:
Part 1 -
The Meanings Of Life
Part 2 -
Elitism: Human Warmth or Weakness?
Part 3 -
Not Right, But Necessary
Part 4 -
In Fiat We Trust
Part 5 -
When The Sane Go Marching In
Part 6 -
Downfall Of Gods

27 Comments:

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you may have failed to understand the concept of IC. Behe says, "By irreducible complexity I mean a single system which is composed of several interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, and where the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning. An irreducibly complex system cannot be produced gradually by slight, successive modifications of a precursor system, since any precursor to an irreducibly complex system is by definition nonfunctional. Since natural selection requires a function to select, an irreducibly complex biological system, if there is such a thing, would have to arise as an integrated unit for natural selection to have anything to act on."

Your example of a human body with certain parts being chopped off is not a good counter analogy as the human body is a repository of many biological systems that when taken on their own exhibit IC.

Your corporate analogy is also not a good counter analogy. A corporation is not a biological thing. While a one man company can "evolve" into an MNC, we do not mean it in a biological evolutionary sense.

Your argument against IC begs the question by ASSUMING that evolution is true when you said "Likewise, hundreds of millions of years ago our simple animal ancestors didn't have any hearts or brains - they just didn't need them. Of course, we won't last long without these critical organs today." For one, how do you know that your ancestors did not have any hearts or brains millions of years ago? Where does the information for the coding of hearts and brains come from?

But I think that still does not answer the question of origins, why is there something rather than nothing? Where does matter come from, if matter is all there is?

Lim Leng Hiong said...

"Your example of a human body with certain parts being chopped off is not a good counter analogy as the human body is a repository of many biological systems that when taken on their own exhibit IC."

Since you believe that the human body contains many such subsystems, perhaps you can give a good example?

I've noticed that you've completely sidestepped the issue of modularity and redundancy. As I've mentioned in this article even if a strictly irreducible subsystem can be found, it does not refute stepwise development if there is redundancy (eg. gene duplications).

"Your corporate analogy is also not a good counter analogy. A corporation is not a biological thing. While a one man company can "evolve" into an MNC, we do not mean it in a biological evolutionary sense."

I used a corporation as an illustration of redundancy and functional change, not as an explanatory analogy for evolutionary biology.

If you are familiar with creationist literature you might have noticed that this illustration alludes to a real biological example - the evolution of the bacterial flagellum from the type III secretory system.

"For one, how do you know that your ancestors did not have any hearts or brains millions of years ago? Where does the information for the coding of hearts and brains come from?"

That's fairly straightforward - the information for the coding of hearts and brains are in the genome of the organism, we can tell that our distant ancestors didn't have them using comparative genomics, in particular the differential expression pattern of deeply conserved genes.

In addition, there is no fossil record of complex vertebrates over 500 million years ago so our ancestors at that time could not have hearts or brainz. You are welcome to refute that by uncovering new fossil evidence if you are interested in this field.

While you've expressed some familiar criticisms, I am quite surprised that you let me get away with this massive claim:

"However, if there exists a system which has absolute component interdependency, no modularity and no redundancy, then the creationists would be right and any small change would bring down the whole shebang.

Such a system cannot be 'constructed' by any stepwise process; indeed it cannot be physically constructed at all and must magically come into existence completely intact."

In case you didn't notice, I claimed that an absolutely irreducible system with completely interdependent and indispensible components not only cannot evolve - it can't even be physically built!

That's an audacious claim that not only biologists, but inventors and engineers can try to refute.

Now disprove me.

Wolf said...

A stone arch is irreducibly complex piece of engineering - you can't remove any of the stones without the whole structure coming down.

Lim Leng Hiong said...

"A stone arch is irreducibly complex piece of engineering - you can't remove any of the stones without the whole structure coming down."

A possible exception?

Collapsing Arch

No actually you are right, irreducible systems can be physically built in a stepwise process. My claim is incorrect.

Anonymous said...

Examples of IC in the human body are the famous eye, flagellum, and the blood clotting functions. You may want to see also here http://creationontheweb.com/content/view/3287

Let me say upfront that I have no formal training in the sciences, though as a Christian I have a keen interest in the issue of origins and try to read and understand much of the literature surrounding the debate. So please pardon me if certain technicalities are beyond my current knowledge. Back to the issue of modularity and redundancy, I did not address it because I think it takes for granted the existence of genetic information but still leaves unresolved the ORIGINS of the genetic information. This is also why I asked at the end of the post, why is there something rather than nothing? Where does matter comes from? See also http://creationontheweb.com/content/view/5673

If, as you said, a strictly IC system can be found, then doesn’t that pose a problem for the evolutionist? How did such a thing come into existence in the first place? You said it does not refute stepwise development, but are you assuming that there is no genetic limits to change? And are they sufficient to account for evolution that says all living things come from a common ancestor millions of years ago and ultimately that this common ancestor evolved from a nonliving thing?

You said “I used a corporation as an illustration of redundancy and functional change, not as an explanatory analogy for evolutionary biology.” So is your analogy RELEVANT to the issue of origins? How so? I am fairly familiar with creationist literature and Behe’s example of the flagellum as IC. But why do you think it has evolved rather than being designed?

You said “the information for the coding of hearts and brains are in the genome of the organism, we can tell that our distant ancestors didn't have them using comparative genomics, in particular the differential expression pattern of deeply conserved genes.” I noticed you use words like “information, coding” but exactly where does this information and coding comes from in the first place? And on what basis do you conclude what your distant ancestors have or don’t have? How do you even know for sure that those were your distant ancestors, without first assuming the truth of evolution? Moreover you also conclude that the fossil record is a record of life, a sort of progression so to speak, I see it as a record of death and burial as a result of a global watery catastrophe.

As for letting you get away with a massive claim, I don’t quite see how your claim vindicates evolution or undermines the creationist position. Even with modularity and redundancy thrown in, it still begs the question of where the genetic information comes from in the first place, which is really what the origins issue is all about.

Lim Leng Hiong said...

"Back to the issue of modularity and redundancy, I did not address it because I think it takes for granted the existence of genetic information but still leaves unresolved the ORIGINS of the genetic information."

This article is about modularity and redundancy of complex living systems. To find out more about the origin of genetic information, please google "chemical evolution of nucleic acids".

Thank you and have a good weekend!

Anonymous said...

Does chemical evolution explains the origin of matter? How so? The issue of origins does not just relate to biology and genes.

Lim Leng Hiong said...

To find out more about the origin of matter, please google "Planck epoch".

It's not hard to google the questions that you've asked me and there are plenty of good resources out there.

Why not take some time to learn about those fields before galloping into another topic?

Anonymous said...

Planck Epoch is not about the origin of the universe. It refers to the brief period of time after the universe has supposedly "poofed" into existence "billions of years ago". Sorry but your lead is not answering the issue of origins.

Lim Leng Hiong said...

"...still leaves unresolved the ORIGINS of the genetic information."

"Does chemical evolution explains the origin of matter?"

"Planck Epoch is not about the origin of the universe."

I see that you are not interested in the discussion about modularity and redundancy in living systems at all. Spam will be deleted after one warning.

Anonymous said...

Looks like while on one hand you attack the ID movement, which is really about the Creation Evolution debate, you avoid talking about the origins issue. Instead you threw out red herrings, asking me to read things that do not address my questions at all, but are questions that strike at your own fundamental beliefs about evolution.

Which is why at the end of the day, evolution isn't about science at all, it's a BELIEF about the past to explain the present, just like Creation.

Your threat to delete my future posts by defining them as spams is interesting if not ludicrous. Spamming is the abuse of electronic messaging systems to indiscriminately send unsolicited bulk messages. How you can even consider my postings as spam is bewildering. Sure it's your blog and you can do whatever you like to anyone but if that's how you want to censor my genuine comments (which blogs are supposed to welcome) then it reflects more on you than me. Real highhanded but like I said, it's your blog. You can probably make our exchanges disappear from your blog as if the exchange never happened.

Anyway, it was good while it lasted. Have a good weekend and a happy new year!

Lim Leng Hiong said...

In case I haven't made it abundantly clear in my previous comments, this post is about the modularity and redundancy of living systems.

Which part of this do you not understand?

Why do you insist on going off topic?

Besides, if you are genuinely interested in understanding the processes behind the origins of genetic information, matter or the Universe, why not spend some to learn about those fields first?

For example, you claim that the origin of genetic information is "unresolved".

But there is ongoing research in that field and so it's not a red herring to encourage you to read up on the origin of genetic information in order to address your own question about the origin of genetic information.

In particular the chemical evolution of nucleic acids is a fascinating field of study that helps illuminate the processes of polymerization, self-organization and self-replication.

I'm not a chemist by training but I may write about nucleic acid evolution in the future if somebody publishes a good review on that field.

Anonymous said...

You started your post by saying "I think that creationists who support the concept of irreducible complexity don't really understand what their idea entails." so isn't this referring to the Creation Evolution debate? Am I off topic or is it you refuse to go where the deeper issue is?

Lim Leng Hiong said...

Mmm... maybe I shouldn't reveal what FAMILIAR is until I've developed it further. I'm starting to foresee the deluge of criticisms that I will have to face from biologists and cyberneticists alike.

Oh yes, regarding your question, this is an article about the modularity and redundancy of living systems.

I am especially fascinated with the defensive capacity of redundancy, which reminds me of Larry Moran's latest article about immune systems. Larry seems to say that plants have NO immune systems - now that is a pretty big claim that I'm sure many plant biologists would disagree with.

But what if it were true and plants can somehow fend off pathogens without anything resembling an immune system? That could be a line of evidence supporting special creation - maybe the Universe was created by a giant bowl of Petunias. Which would explain why so many people feel a sense of awe when they are walking through a forest but only feel constant irritation when they are surrounded by other people. Do you think it could be a purple Petunia? I've been taking many photos of pretty flowers lately and the colours in the photo never turn out the same as the actual flower. In particular reds and blues tend to burn out easily, because I heard that the CCD technology, called Bayer or something, has more green photosites than reds and blues. Does it follow that the ultimate Petunia should then be green instead? Though that doesn't seem like a compelling case for Foveon fanboys.

Where were we? Oh yes, the deeper issue of origins.

Have you ever wondered about the origin of the word "origin"? Not sure how this relates to redundancy, but man it must have been weird to live in an era when the word or concept of origin has not yet originated. Heck even the word "etymology" alludes to the concept of origin. I think that Vikings could have invented "origin" - they pretty much invented everything, like the word "kiosk" - but the etymology of the word "etymology" is probably Latin, like most other "ologies". In this way, Vikings are more cool than Ninjas, because Ninjas never invent new words. Pirates do have their own language though. Which suddenly reminds me of Korean - now that IS a language that is specially created, I heard that the characters were all designed by a Korean king who then imposed the new system on his subjects. But I'm pretty sure that ancient Korean copper coins still used traditional Chinese characters, which is rather odd given that Asian rulers like to stamp their authority on their money. By the way, did you know that the highest denomination note in Korea is only 10000 won(~S$10)? It must be really inconvenient to shop with a huge stack of ten dollar bill equivalents. I heard somewhere that they use cashier's cheques as higher denominations to avoid official corruption but I don't understand how you can rein in corruption simply by pressing smaller denomination bills.

And what's up with the word "denomination" anyway? It isn't the opposite meaning of "nomination" at all. Maybe it came from French, like the word "advertissement" which doesn't have the same meaning as "advertisement". I don't really like advertisers, I'm partial towards technical and production people admittedly because that's where I'm at. Seems to me that advertisers think that people are ignorant simpletons who operate by operant conditioning and cling to clang association, roving through topic after topic that just sounds the same to them. Flash a boob, sell a car. Can you believe that sex has been used to sell flush toilets? I'm not making this up, I once predicted that using sex to sell stuff has become so overdone that they will one day use sex to sell toilets. And then I really found one such advert in a foreign newspaper! With a pair sexy legs in high heels too, no less. Heel deal real thrill, hush rush mush.

Sometimes it's better to stick to the topic.

Anonymous said...

I see that you were either being facetious or sarcastic in your reply.

Yes we should stick to the topic but I think you are putting the cart before the horse.

To talk about how things (genes) work without asking how they came to be is to sidestep the origins issue. You want to talk about chemical evolution, but where does the chemicals come from in the first place? You talk about planck time, this is speculative and predicated on an evolutionary origins of the universe via the Big Bang supposedly billions of years when NO ONE was there to witness it. But what gave rise to this so called Big Bang? Where does the matter come from to give rise to this singularity?

Lim Leng Hiong said...

Maybe it was a purple Petunia?

angry doc said...

"But what gave rise to this so called Big Bang? Where does the matter come from to give rise to this singularity?"

Aw come on, anon, tell us already! Obviously you were there and know the answers.

Anonymous said...

A purple petunia created? So you think it is creation and not evolution? What do you know about this purple petunia? What makes you think you are correct in this conclusion? Then again you are probably just jesting here. Maybe you are a closet creationist?

Angry doc, no I wasn't there. But I know Someone who was there "In the Beginning...."

Lim Leng Hiong said...

Superb. Since you say you know someone from the beginning, just ask her all those questions that you asked me.

Oh and help me ask her these questions too:

1. Why did the bowl of Petunias think, "Oh no, not again"?

2. Do plants have immune systems? If not how do they defend against pathogens?

3. What's up with the recurrent pharyngeal nerve, vertebrate photoreceptors facing the wrong way, eyes in blindfish, hindlimb buds in dolphin embryos, leg bones in adult boas, wings on flightless birds, inducible chicken teeth, platypus teeth, primate inability to synthesis Vitamin C, primate propensity to choke, impacted wisdom teeth, and that sewage pipe that runs through the amusement park?

4. Does the Higgs boson exist?

5. What is the 多多 tow bioh next week?

If you really know someone who was really there at the beginning, then answering these should be easy enough.

Unless she doesn't talk to you at all, which means you don't actually know her, if she exists.

angry doc said...

Angry doc, no I wasn't there. But I know Someone who was there "In the Beginning...."

Kewl. Is this his facebook account?

http://www.collegehumor.com/article:1764710

Anonymous said...

I see that you prefer to play the ridicule and mock your opponent approach. Well, I suppose when your worldview have no solution to the question of origins it is better to sneer and poke fun of the others.

angry doc said...

"Well, I suppose when your worldview have no solution to the question of origins it is better to sneer and poke fun of the others."

Sure; since we don't have the answer to the question of origin your version *must* be correct.

Anonymous said...

You make your own case and I'll make mine. If you don't have a good solution from your own worldview then don't just dismiss mine or ridicule mine if you have not even heard it or genuinely considered it in the first place.

Wolf said...

Here's how it is:

At t=0, the Flying Spaghetti Monster set the values of c, h, G and pi.

Physics took over at t=sqrt(h*G/(2*pi*c^5)).

RAmen!

Anonymous said...

Wolf, I see that you intend to add more jest and play the fool here. Again such nonsensical replies reflects more about you than me.

Wolf said...

I ain't jesting.

We have absolutely no way of determining what happens at exactly t=0. All of our known physical laws break down at that point. You can only speculate about what happened at that very point in time (even if you assume t=0 has any physical meaning), but since there's no way of knowing, one guess is as good as any other.

So maybe it was Pan Gu. Or the FSM. Or the Giant Invisible Purple Petunia. Whatever.

But once you get past the Planck Epoch, there are scientific explanations for how things come into existence. Astronomers have a pretty good idea how stars and planets form. Geologists have a pretty good idea of mountains, rivers and lakes came about. Biologists have a pretty good idea how the many different species of life arise.

Incidentally, none of these processes have a well defined origin in time. It's not as if someone pushed a button and then a star poofed into existence at a specific moment. Rather, a star is an incidental byproduct of quarks dancing according to the laws of nature since the beginning of time. Same thing with mountains, and bacteria, and dinosaurs.

So yes, there are pretty good scientific explanations how things came about. Giant Invisible Purple Petunias don't figure into this, neither does the question "Why?".

Anonymous said...

Why do you rule out special creation by a supernatural being? The material universe had a beginning, and this is consistent with Creation. All speculations about the Big Bang and planck time etc are just that, speculations. No one was there to observe what happened. But what if God, outside of time and space, spoke the universe into existence and told us when and how He did that? Don't you think it makes sense then to consider if what we see in the world agrees with what we read in the Word?