Omni Brain

i-f633e45f9165d01c8a1702f423201d1e-dilbert18.jpgHere’s the main gist of his argument – I really wish this was a conversation in the cartoon though.

I suppose some of you will argue that the Big Bang started a natural series of events that led to a chance development of intelligent life. And then the life did all of the intelligent stuff. But what is the logic behind arbitrarily picking a tiny slice of time and acting as if it’s the only important part of a process that requires many steps?

Consider the simple act of picking up a pencil. It requires your brain and your muscles, but it also requires you to exist in the first place. And that means that your mother and father are part of the process, as well as their parents, etc. Once you existed, and within your body, there was a vast sequence of cause and effect between your brain and your muscles to make it all happen. You might say that “you” picked up the pencil, but I look at the big picture and say the Big Bang picked up that pencil – with or without the existence of free will – because without the Big Bang, none of it would happen.

If you reject the Big Bang as being intelligent – after acknowledging that it created so many books and other works of art, it leaves you with no test for intelligence.

I take the practical approach – that something is intelligent if it unambiguously performs tasks that require intelligence. Writing Moby Dick required intelligence. The Big Bang wrote Moby Dick. Therefore, the Big Bang is intelligent, and you and I are created by that same intelligence. Therefore, we are created by an intelligent entity.

I don’t see how an atheist can think otherwise.

Here’s the source.
So, what do you think?

-Update-
PZ has a post over at Pharyngula about this.

Comments

  1. #1 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    January 30, 2007

    The Big Bang wrote Moby Dick.

    I think the Big Bang had a gift for epic prose, but needed a better editor.

    He saw God’s foot upon the treadle of the loom and
    spoke it; and therefore his shipmates called him mad.

  2. #2 Chris Chatham
    January 30, 2007

    I think that you should use the word you’re attempting to define in its own definition:

    “something is intelligent if it unambiguously performs tasks that require intelligence”

    What on earth does that mean?

  3. #3 Shelley Batts
    January 30, 2007

    I like Dilbert cartoons, and the cartoonist has apparently had a spate of bad health. But this argument is just *dumb*. Sad thing is, its the same faulty logic that creationists think justifies their views: that the current state of affairs is so impossibly unlikely (due to all the lucky minutia that must have occured to arrive at situation x) that the design *must* have been planned.

    ::Sigh::

    Problem is, every single outcome would have been equally as unlikely. The reason for this is that we are looking at the situation from the benefit of hindsight: the situation only seems special due to an over-valuation of events which seem salient to our existence. This is the way our brain was meant to function, so I can hardly blame them for falling prey to their own evolution rather than seeing the bigger picture.

    His definition of intelligence, however, is a nonsensical circular definition: something is intelligent if its results denote intelligence. Huh? Under that definition, the machine that made this keyboard (and actually the keyboard itself) is intelligent. Its absurd.

  4. #4 Flaky
    January 30, 2007

    Pointless wordplay. Although Big Bang can be said to be an event in a chain of events leading to the existence of books, that doesn’t mean that the Big Bang created them. Writing anything of that sort, while leaving the relevant terms undefined in this context (i.e. what does it mean that something has created something, or what does it mean that something exists), is a waste of perfectly good binary digits.
    It’s unfortunate that people confuse this sort of drivel with a philosophical argument.

    As always with this sort of writing, it’s much more interesting to try to guess what the author was getting at, rather than wasting time on the argument itself. I’m guessing the author is trying to prove that rational atheists really do believe in God, so that atheism is in fact irrational. This leaves the author free of any troublesome dilemmas following from the existence of rational atheists.

  5. #5 Craig Pennington
    January 30, 2007

    His argument begs the question. Specifically, he implicitly assumes that intelligence is required to generate intelligence and then concludes that the universe (which he calls “the big bang” for some reason) is intelligent. His inabilty to see how an atheist might consider intelligence an emergent property is not a problem for atheism.

  6. #6 pough
    January 30, 2007

    I’m confused. Did I not pick up a pencil? Scott Adams is totally baking my noodle!

    He needs to read some Billy Dembski: ‘by intelligence I mean the power and facility to choose between options-this coincides with the Latin etymology of “intelligence,” namely, “to choose between”‘

    So to recap, the big bang was not intelligent; natural selection was and is.

  7. #7 df
    January 30, 2007

    I still enjoy reading his comic strip. But this is just more of the same argument he first introduced in his book God’s Debris: A Thought Experiment. It struck me as woo written by someone who had deluded himself that he wasn’t writing woo.

  8. #8 The Ridger
    January 30, 2007

    Don’t all (or most, anyway) woo-writers think they aren’t writing woo?

  9. #9 Colugo
    January 30, 2007

    Assuming that the universe is entirely deterministic, the fate of the universe since the big bang is analogous to the running of a program. That program would be the initial conditions of the big bang + physical laws.

    This gives rise to cosmic evolution, star systems, stellar carbon production, carbon based molecules in stable satellite receiving consistent stellar energy, processes of self-organization (hypercycles etc.), multilevel selection, integration of smaller units into larger ones, resulting in systems of information transmission (inheritance), hierarchical biological networks, information and energy flux in the biosphere, as well as localized sensor-analyzer-effector systems (brains), developed into self-reflexive awareness and enhanced collective manipulation and construction of the environment, alongside the emergence of acoustic symbolic and syntactical communication systems, extrasomatic representation of the same plus technological development and trade networks resulting in era of cetacean harvesting plus unique socially and ecologically embedded ontogeny of Herman Melville -> Moby Dick.

    If we are hardcore Laplacian determinists, then all of that is inherent in the initial conditions and properties of the Big Bang. However, “intelligence” is inevitable not because the big bang program is intelligent, but because self-organization and selection in the context of high and consistent radiant energy input (i.e. earth) inevitably produces complex hierarchical networks engaged in information and energy capture and flux, which is the context in which a Moby Dick can arise.

    The question remains why the initial conditions and properties of the Big Bang program were such that they inevitably produced such an event. Perhaps, as many others have suggested, there was a vast number of other Big Bang programs, the majority of which did not result in sustainable and complex intelligence-generating systems. And perhaps our Big Bang program is the descendant of those that did.

  10. #10 Tyler DiPietro
    January 30, 2007

    His definition of intelligence, however, is a nonsensical circular definition: something is intelligent if its results denote intelligence. Huh? Under that definition, the machine that made this keyboard (and actually the keyboard itself) is intelligent. Its absurd.

    It may be a circular definition, but it is nonetheless one used in some quarters. The A.I. community, or at least it’s aspects focusing exclusively on technological implementations, defines intelligence as whatever we would expect from beings we already know to be intelligent.

    The problem with Adams’ above pap is that he confuses behavior we’d expect from intelligent beings to anything that is connected in any way with intelligence. A neuroscientist (like yourself) can see that individual neurons, for instance, are not intelligent, but somehow acting in concert they are.

  11. #11 Colugo
    January 30, 2007

    In addition, some of other conditions and events are necessary (which I won’t go into) in order for life to evolve beyond bacteria.

    Well, that was fun.

    I am a non-teleological atheist. Like Dawkins and many others, I accept the multiverse explanation of anthropic fine tuning – until something more convincing comes along.

  12. #12 Eric Irvine
    January 30, 2007

    “So to recap, the big bang was not intelligent; natural selection was and is.”

    I wouldn’t agree. If a planet is forming next to another planet it will form differently then if it is completely alone. There are several different actions that a planet might take depending on the environment of space bodies around it.

    Natural selection is similar in that the organism’s environment will either allow a trait to flourish or extinguish it.

    Relative to the object, the environment in both cases will effect the thing’s development.

    I would argue that neither Astrophysics or Natural selection actively chooses anything. Things do not choose to adapt, they randomly fall into an adapted form. By your definition, Astrophysics “chooses” in the same way that natural selection “chooses”, but I doubt many will call that “intelligence”.

    Ultimately, the unintelligent rules of chemistry and physics result in complex things such as planets and people – what is the problem with that? No “intelligent” process needed.

  13. #13 Craig Pennington
    January 30, 2007

    “So to recap, the big bang was not intelligent; natural selection was and is.”

    I wouldn’t agree.

    That’s because you’re not using Dembski’s definition, as pough was: “… by intelligence I mean the power and facility to choose between options… .” Therefore any sorting requires intelligence, and any process which results in sorting is intelligent.

  14. #14 derek
    January 30, 2007

    If the Big Bang wrote the Dilbert strip, why does Scott Adams claim copyright on it?

  15. #15 Colugo
    January 30, 2007

    “I would argue that neither Astrophysics or Natural selection actively chooses anything.”

    Right; they are mindless deterministic processes, befitting the playing out of a program. That is why universal constants (Rees’ ‘six numbers’) and initial conditions are so important. Also, local conditions of the solar system are also crucial in even allowing selection to unfold.

    I would recommend ‘Life’s Solution’ by Conway Morris, who discusses astronomical and other events and conditions necessary for the evolution of life on earth. Morris is a theistic evolutionist, but his arguments are useful for anyone considering the necessary properties, conditions, and events for life as we know it.

    Also, Stuart Kauffman, ‘At Home in the Universe.’

    God is the Machine by Kevin Kelly
    http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/10.12/holytech_pr.html

  16. #16 Craig Pennington
    January 30, 2007

    I would argue that neither Astrophysics or Natural selection actively chooses anything. Things do not choose to adapt, …

    The subjects changed in your two sentences. If I select a green marble from an urn, this does not imply that the marble choose to be removed from that urn.

    And you are trying to sneak intelligence into the choice process with your phrase “actively chooses.” There was no such constraint in Dembski’s definition (or if there was, then the definition is circular.)

  17. #17 Colugo
    January 30, 2007

    That was a typo; I know that the full surname is Conway Morris. (Second time I’ve done that this week.)

  18. #18 AgnosticOracle
    January 30, 2007

    If you reject the Big Bang as being intelligent – after acknowledging that it created so many books and other works of art, it leaves you with no test for intelligence.

    I don’t have a test for intelligence I don’t think the author does either. He just assumes intelligence must come from intelligence and provides no evidence why.

  19. #19 Shelley Batts
    January 30, 2007

    It may be a circular definition, but it is nonetheless one used in some quarters. The A.I. community, or at least it’s aspects focusing exclusively on technological implementations, defines intelligence as whatever we would expect from beings we already know to be intelligent.

    The problem with Adams’ above pap is that he confuses behavior we’d expect from intelligent beings to anything that is connected in any way with intelligence. A neuroscientist (like yourself) can see that individual neurons, for instance, are not intelligent, but somehow acting in concert they are.

    The AI people can get away with it somewhat, but they have a bit better definition than Adams suggests. They at least have the Turing Test (or pick the test a la mode) which requires x, y, and z tenents to be satisfied (like tricking an human into thinking its conversation partner is a human rather than a machine). It may be a faulty definition, but at least there is a way to achieve it, and a way to fall short. On the other hand, Adams attributes intelligence to pretty much the entire universe that has an effect. Why is it so hard to accept that random events often (and more often than not) occur, and their consequences are as lasting and immutable as ones premeditated?

  20. #20 Shelley Batts
    January 30, 2007

    Oops, looks like I didn’t close my tage properly in the above post. My response started with “The Ai people…..”

  21. #21 J-Dog
    January 30, 2007

    Evidently the character that Scott Adams most closely resemble is NOT Dilbert, but The Pointy Haired Manager…

  22. #22 Mark
    January 30, 2007

    Craig Pennington is correct: the argument begs the question.

    For the sake of another argument, I would like to point out that Scott Adams considers himself a “pesudo-engineer.” It appears that he has associated long enough with actual engineers to think that he is a philosopher.

  23. #23 Cheeto
    January 30, 2007

    Last time Scott Adams started a blog war about Atheists being illogical (2 years ago?) he capped it off with a post a day or two later with a “ha ha – it was a joke and all the stupid atheists got caught up in it.”

    The man make a funny cartoon, but has woo beliefs and a suck-ass blog persona. Don’t waste your time going and arguing with him, he thinks that he is tricking you.

  24. #24 pough
    January 30, 2007

    By your definition, Astrophysics “chooses” in the same way that natural selection “chooses”, but I doubt many will call that “intelligence”.

    It’s not my definition, it’s William Dembski’s. And I think the comparison is a little bit broken until the planets start humping. Natural selection works so well because it works on imperfect replicators in a varying environment; dirty little f*@kers. ;-)

  25. #25 Colugo
    January 30, 2007

    OK, now I understand what pough is saying about selection and “intelligence.” (And I should have earlier.) Agreed.

  26. #26 Carlo
    January 30, 2007

    Um. I’ve been reading the Dilbert Blog for a long time now, and let me assure you: do NOT take anything Adams says too seriously. He enjoys posting silly jokes and thought experiments to amuse himself and his readers; but he believes very little of what he writes. He’s very funny if you don’t take him seriously, and very irritating if you do. He generally only posts on “serious” topics on Sundays.

  27. #27 Brian
    January 30, 2007

    I’d like to congratulate Steve on the first ever ‘intelligent design’ flame war in which everyone took the same side.

  28. #28 Blake Stacey
    January 30, 2007

    I dunno. Dilbert stopped being funny sometime around 2000 or ’01. Fortunately, Sinfest had been invented by that time.

  29. #29 Scott Adams
    January 30, 2007

    Regarding Dembski’s definition of intelligence, “choose” is a concept used by superstitious people who believe in free will.

    Intelligence “chooses” exactly the same way a coin sorting machine “chooses” which tube the nickel goes in. It’s just physics. Your brain is a more complicated coin sorter.

    Yes, my definition of intelligence is circular nonsense. That’s the point. Any definition of intelligence is nonsense. So it makes no sense to talk of an intelligent designer if no one knows what it means.

    Too subtle?

  30. #30 steve
    January 30, 2007

    Glad you came on over and commented Scott! :)

  31. #31 Tyler DiPietro
    January 30, 2007

    Yes, my definition of intelligence is circular nonsense. That’s the point. Any definition of intelligence is nonsense. So it makes no sense to talk of an intelligent designer if no one knows what it means.

    Got it! Engineering doesn’t exist.

    Wrong, you need an operational definition of intelligence. The reason intelligent design fails is because no operational definition has been proposed that fits the data better than evolution.

    Too complicated?

  32. #32 Tyler DiPietro
    January 30, 2007

    The AI people can get away with it somewhat, but they have a bit better definition than Adams suggests. They at least have the Turing Test (or pick the test a la mode) which requires x, y, and z tenents to be satisfied (like tricking an human into thinking its conversation partner is a human rather than a machine). It may be a faulty definition, but at least there is a way to achieve it, and a way to fall short.

    Yes, but it’s also circular in nature. Intelligence is achieved because people expect it to be intelligent. This circularity also exists in other parts of science, even physics. Something as basic as Newton’s second law of motion states that force is equal mass times acceleration, while acceleration is defined as the change in motion of an object in response to force. Circularity is not necessarily as bad in science as it is in philosophy.

    Why is it so hard to accept that random events often (and more often than not) occur, and their consequences are as lasting and immutable as ones premeditated?

    It’s counterintuitive for our hunter-gatherer brains. That’s my conjecture anyway.

  33. #33 plunge
    January 31, 2007

    There is no basis for the fine-tuning argument, and not even the multi-verse suggestion is necessary to point out the flaw in its supposed necessity.

    Simply put, we have no clue, and no way to find out, what your average “universe” is like, in general. We can see certain regularities and observe certain constant measurements in our own universe, but we have no idea whether these can vary, by how much, whether these variations are independent or connected. We have no idea whether the number of constants or regularities found in our universe are even the only ones possible.

    For all we know, our universe’s constants are highly unlikely and fine-tuned to have VERY LITTLE order and emergent evolved intelligence compared to most possible universes. Or our universe could be perfectly average. We don’t know. The idea that our universe is somehow incredibly unlikely in its character in regards to order and potential for evolution, when all we have is the one example, is simply unwarranted. Justifying that idea requires all sorts of information we simply do not have.

    Note that when I’m talking about “average” I’m not implying that there are other universes, just discussing the idea that our particular set of constants is somehow inexplicably unlikely (thus demanding some sort of intelligent crafting). If indeed the state of our universe is not, in fact, just some plain fact with no cause, and if it could have been other than it was, as some ID fine-tuning proponents suggest, then my argument is basically to simply accuse these people of a EXTREME lack of imagination.

  34. #34 plunge
    January 31, 2007

    Scott,

    “So it makes no sense to talk of an intelligent designer if no one knows what it means.”

    Well, that’s the problem. The ID folks refuse to specify any identifying specifics. So we are left looking for something that could be anything, working in just about any way, that’s potentially capable of doing anything at all.

    I also don’t think we are really as out of luck in operational definitions of intelligence as you claim. One thing intelligent things can do is have foresight and abstract simulation: this is what makes intelligent beings such good intentional designers: they can trial and error things out in their heads before they try to build them in real life, and they have no need to stick to any of the many many physical restrictions of materialistic processes like evolution.

    This is, in fact, one way in which we could very very easily discover design in nature: there are many things that intelligent designers can do that material processes with no foresight or intention cannot do. Tellingly, we don’t see any of those things in the history of nature. That can’t rule out intelligent design, because nothing can (and intelligent beings could perfectly mimic ANYTHING), but the complete silence we find when we look at all these would-be obvious hallmarks of design, along with the complete consistency with the hallmarks of evolutionary adaptation, cannot be dismissed out of hand.

  35. #35 Mike
    January 31, 2007

    Has it occurred to anyone that Scott Adams, just maybe, might be sarcastic? Anyone?

  36. #36 plunge
    January 31, 2007

    “Has it occurred to anyone that Scott Adams, just maybe, might be sarcastic? Anyone?”

    Yes. But this is plainly not the case. And “hey hey, I was just joking” is a pretty lame cop-out when you realize that your arguments are lousy.

  37. #37 Greg Laden
    January 31, 2007

    He is simply failing to draw a line between two things that are different from each other. Anybody can do that.

    I have drawn a line on a piece of paper. Scott Adams has drawn a line that is his latest Dilbert comic. Therefore I am the copyright holder of all of his comics and he owes me a lot of money.

  38. #38 Brian
    January 31, 2007

    “That can’t rule out intelligent design, because nothing can”

    That’s an overly-polite way of stating things and implies that intelligent design is a scientific theory, which it isn’t. The universe exists because I say so! Prove me wrong!

  39. #39 lokey
    January 31, 2007

    while i agree with the basic principle that everything (or at least the universe and its contents) is connected, and must be evaluated holistically, it really comes down to a question of scale. It is important to consider that processes that operate at a given scale do not necessarily continue to operate (at all or in the same fashion) at different scales of organization. Therefore: yes, the universe as a whole contains intelligent (or at least self-aware) components, but this cannot be extrapolated across scales to say that everything in it is therefore selfaware. Intelligence is an emergent feature.

  40. #40 pough
    January 31, 2007

    Too subtle?

    When you’re dealing with living human caricatures, yes. It’s what happens when your satire can’t be any sillier than the original and it’s the only reason I haven’t done a satire of the World Net Daily. Okay, there’s also my mental block against coding anything that ugly.

  41. #41 pow
    January 31, 2007

    I’m not American and have rarely read a Dilbert cartoon. I’ve never visited Scott’s blog before today.

    But at least I can recognise irony when I see it. Sheesh.

  42. #42 pough
    January 31, 2007

    But at least I can recognise irony when I see it. Sheesh.

    It’s the shocking false positives that will cure you of your arrogance. Hopefully. :-p

  43. #43 Armando Esteban
    February 1, 2007

    I think Scott Adams has a point, but you are too close minded to see it

  44. #44 Sam
    February 1, 2007

    Shelly Batts

    “This is the way our brain was meant to function”

    ment by whom?

  45. #45 Blake Stacey
    February 1, 2007

    In 286 comments over at Pharyngula, nobody has defended Adams with a serious, rigorous argument. Instead, we get a flood of hecklers who rant and screech far more harshly than PZ wrote in his original post.

    Sweet Sexy Isis, these affairs are hard on the heart.

  46. #46 steve
    February 1, 2007

    Why would we defend Adams?
    I’m certainly not. The arguments are circular and juvenile.

  47. #47 Blake Stacey
    February 1, 2007

    steve:

    I’m certainly not asking you to defend anything Adams wrote. You’re right when you call his arguments “circular and juvenile”. I just wanted to say that I found it quite depressing: in 286 comments — whoops, now it’s 309 — nobody has even tried. Instead, we get complaints that PZ Myers is harsh and unfunny.

    As if that mattered! Presenting an idea in an engaging way does not make it true. Sugar-coating a cyanide pill does not lessen the effect of the poison. It makes me want to take back every nice thing I have said about the Internet and half the kind things I have said about modern humanity. The truth is dead. Follow anybody with the right smile, you fuckers. That’s it, slide that perfect media image down your throat and let it burst its wit and stylish humor all sticky down your gullet, while a quarter billion meme-sperm go wiggling into the degenerating flesh of your disused devolving cerebral cortex.

    Maybe I should just go read a book.

  48. #48 Chris Chatham
    February 1, 2007

    OK Plunge, I’ll bite… Can you give an example his of something “that intelligent designers can do that material processes with no foresight or intention cannot do”?

    To save some space/time: If you say “abstraction” or “simulation” I’ll ask you a) to define those and b) to reconcile your statement with the fact that humans, as the product of material processes, apparently have those capacities.

  49. #49 Stu
    February 2, 2007

    It seems to me that Scott’s post has far less of an agenda than many people seem to be making it out to be. He is not arguing for intelligent Design, nor against it. He is only asking, and in turn letting others ask themselves, how they define intelligence. As I feel he made clear, Our definition of intelligent life has to be something better than “Intelligent life creates complex things”. IF one were to use that definition, then the Big Bang is defined as intelligent, and again, by that definition, We are the product of a greater intelligence. The point is that said definition doesn’t cut it. Many arguments that erupt between evolutionists and IDists are simply based around conflicting interpretations of the term. At least, that’s what I think Scott meant.

  50. #50 Jake
    February 2, 2007

    You people are all idiots. You take all this shit way too seriously and htink that everything is a battle between science and religion. The man is not trying to espouse any serious beliefs. He’s just playing around with words and “logic.” Wow. Sometimes people amaze me with their idiocy. I mean YOU.

  51. #51 steve
    February 3, 2007

    YOU? you who? me??!

  52. #52 Brian
    February 3, 2007

    Jake,

    YOU are the only person here who has even mentioned the word religion (if you don’t count the tag near the heading at the top)! “God” has only been mentioned 3 times, and most of it in a non-religious context. SHAME ON YOU for dragging this debate into a science/religion battle. Next time, actually read some of the comments before you post.

    Some people amaze me with their laziness. I mean YOU.

  53. #53 Metro
    February 5, 2007

    Wow. I went all that way just to see Adams write that under the right conditions an infinite number of monkeys might actually be Shakespeare?

  54. #54 truth machine
    February 6, 2007

    Adams’s argument is based on a genetic fallacy. By his reasoning, if the big bang must be intelligent in order to produce intelligent acts, then it must be stupid in order to produce stupid acts. And it must be wet in order to form water. etc.

    Yes, my definition of intelligence is circular nonsense. That’s the point. Any definition of intelligence is nonsense.

    That’s plain stupid. You can’t demonstrate that all definitions of intelligence are nonsense by offering one definition of intelligence that’s nonsense. Here’s a definition from Wikipedia that isn’t circular nonsense:

    a very general mental capability that, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience. It is not merely book learning, a narrow academic skill, or test-taking smarts. Rather, it reflects a broader and deeper capability for comprehending our surroundings–”catching on”, “making sense” of things, or “figuring out” what to do

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