# The Bad Math of Gilder's New Screed

As several [other][panda] [folks][pz] have mentioned, George Gilder has written a [new anti-evolution article][gilder-article] which was published in the National Review.

There's a lot to hate in this article. It's a poorly written screed, which manages to mix together all of Gilder's bogeymen: feminists, liberals, anti-supply-siders, peer reviewers, academics, and whoever else dares to disagree with him about, well, anything.

Plenty of folks are writing about the problems in this article; as usual, I'm going to ignore most of it, and focus specifically on the mathematical parts of it. Given that his argument is mathematical at root, those errors are fatal to the argument of the article as a whole.

>After Wealth & Poverty, my work focused on the subject of human creativity as
>epitomized by science and technology and embodied in computers and
>communications. At the forefront of this field is a discipline called
>information theory. Largely invented in 1948 by Claude Shannon of MIT, it
>rigorously explained digital computation and transmission by zero-one, or
>off-on, codes called "bits." Shannon defined information as unexpected bits, or
>"news," and calculated its passage over a "channel" by elaborate logarithmic
>rules. That channel could be a wire or another other path across a distance of
>space, or it could be a transfer of information across a span of time, as in
>evolution.

What's weird about this characterization is that there's a very strange shift in it. He starts off OK: "the channel could be a wire or another path across a distance of space". Where he gets strange is when he *drops the channel* as he transitions from talking about transmitting information across space to transmitting information across time. Space versus time is not something that we talk about in Shannon's information theory. Information is something abstract; it can be transferred over a channel. What "transferred" means is that the information originated at entity A; and after communication, that information has been seen by entity B. Space, time - they don't make a difference. Gilder doesn't get that.

>Crucial in information theory was the separation of content from conduit --
>information from the vehicle that transports it. It takes a low-entropy
>(predictable) carrier to bear high-entropy (unpredictable) messages. A blank
>sheet of paper is a better vessel for a new message than one already covered
>with writing. In my book Telecosm (2000), I showed that the most predictable
>available information carriers were the regular waves of the electromagnetic
>spectrum and prophesied that all digital information would ultimately flow over
>it in some way. Whether across time (evolution) or across space
>(communication), information could not be borne by chemical processes alone,
>because these processes merged or blended the medium and the message, leaving
>the data illegible at the other end.

There's a technical term for this kind of writing. We call it "bullshit". He's trying to handwave his way past the facts that disagree with him.

If you want to talk about information carried by a medium, that's fine. But his arguments about "information can not be borne by chemical processes alone?" Gibberish.

DNA is a chemical that makes a rather nice communication channel. It's got a common stable substrate on which you can superimpose any message you want - any information, any length. It's an absolutely *wonderful* example of a medium for carrying information. But he can't admit that; he can't even really discuss it in detail, because it would blow his argument out of the water. Thus the handwaving "chemical processes can't do it", with absolutely no real argument for *why* a chemical process "merges the medium and the message".

For another example of how this argument fails: consider a CD/RW drive in a computer. The medium is a piece of plastic with magnetic materials in it. The message is patterns of polarization of those materials. To "record" information on it, you heat it up, and you *modify the medium itself* by changing the polarization of the particles at a point.

Or best of all: take electromagnetic waves, his example of the "very best" communication medium. It's a waveform, where we superimpose our signal on the wave - the wave isn't like a piece of paper where we've stuck ink to its surface: we force it to carry information *by changing the wave itself*. The basic frequency of the wave, the carrier, is not modified, but the wave amplitudes *are* modified - it's not just a simple wave anymore, we've combined the signal and the medium into something different.

What's the difference between that and DNA? You can look at DNA as a long chain of sockets. Each socket must be filled with one of 4 different letters. When we "write" information onto DNA, we're filling those sockets. We've changed the DNA by filling the sockets; but just like the case of radio waves, there's a basic carrier (the underlying chain/carrier wave), and a signal coded onto it (the letters/wave amplitudes).

From this, he tries to go further, and start mixing in some computation theory, building on his lack of comprehension of information theory.

>I came to see that the computer offers an insuperable obstacle to Darwinian
>materialism. In a computer, as information theory shows, the content is
>manifestly independent of its material substrate. No possible knowledge of the
>computer's materials can yield any information whatsoever about the actual
>content of its computations.

This is manifestly not true. In fact, there was a fascinating piece of work a few years ago where people were able to decode the cryptographic system used by a smartcard by using a combination of knowledge of its physical structure, and monitoring its power consumption. From these two things, they were able to backtrack to determine exactly what it was doing, and backtrack to stealing a supposedly inaccessible password.

>The failure of purely physical theories to describe or explain information
>reflects Shannon's concept of entropy and his measure of "news." Information is
>defined by its independence from physical determination: If it is determined,
>it is predictable and thus by definition not information. Yet Darwinian science
>seemed to be reducing all nature to material causes.

Again, gibberish, on many levels.

Shannon's theory does *not* define information by its "independence from physical determination". In fact, the best "information generators" that we know about are purely physical: radioactive decay and various quantum phenomena are the very best sources we've discovered so far for generating high-entropy information.

And even the most predictable, deterministic process produces information. It may be *a small amount* of information - deterministic processes are generally low-entropy wrt to information - but they do generate information.

And then, he proceeds to shoot himself in the foot. He's insisted that chemical processes can't be information carriers. But now he asserts that DNA is an information carrier in his sense:

>Biologists commonly blur the information into the slippery synecdoche of DNA, a
>material molecule, and imply that life is biochemistry rather than information
>processing. But even here, the deoxyribonucleic acid that bears the word is not
>itself the word. Like a sheet of paper or a computer memory chip, DNA bears
>messages but its chemistry is irrelevant to its content. The alphabet's
>nucleotide "bases" form "words" without help from their bonds with the helical
>sugar-phosphate backbone that frames them. The genetic words are no more
>dictated by the chemistry of their frame than the words in Scrabble are
>determined by the chemistry of their wooden racks or by the force of gravity
>that holds them.

Yup, He says earlier "information could not be borne by chemical processes alone, because these processes merged or blended the medium and the message, leaving the data illegible at the other end." And here he describes how DNA can carry information using nothing but a chemical process. Ooops.

And he keeps on babbling. Next he moves on to "irreducible complexity", and even tries to use Chaitin as a support:

>Mathematician Gregory Chaitin, however, has shown that biology is irreducibly
>complex in a more fundamental way: Physical and chemical laws contain hugely
>less information than biological phenomena. Chaitin's algorithmic information
>theory demonstrates not that particular biological devices are irreducibly
>complex but that all biology as a field is irreducibly complex. It is above
>physics and chemistry on the epistemological ladder and cannot be subsumed
>under chemical and physical rules. It harnesses chemistry and physics to its
>own purposes. As chemist Arthur Robinson, for 15 years a Linus Pauling
>collaborator, puts it: "Using physics and chemistry to model biology is like
>using lego blocks to model the World Trade Center." The instrument is simply
>too crude.

This is, again, what's technically known as "talking out your ass". Chaitin's theory demonstrates no such thing. Chaitin's theory doesn't even come close to discussing anything that could be interpreted as saying anything about biology or chemistry. Chaitin's theory talks about two things: what computing devices are capable of doing; and what the fundamental limits of mathematical reasoning are.

One of the most amazing things about Chaitin's theory is that it shows how *any* computing device - even something as simple as a [Turing machine][turing] can do all of the computations necessary to demonstrate the fundamental limits of any mathematical process. It doesn't say "chemistry can't explain biology"; in fact, it's *can't* say "chemistry can't explain biology".

In fact, in this entire section, he never actually supports anything he says. It's just empty babble. Biology is irreducibly complex. Berlinski is a genius who demonstrates IC in mathematics and biology. Chaitin supports the IC nature of biology. Blah, blah, blah. But in all of this, where he's allegedly talking about how mathematical theories support his claim, he never actually *does any math*, or even talks about *how the theories he's discussing applying to his subject*.

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Wow. What a staggering concentration of trash. This sounds to me to be the rantings of someone who tried to read an information theory introduction, fell asleep half way through, and then decided to guess the rest. Possibly he made it through the discussion of motivations, but it's clear that he hasn't taken in any of the theory at all. A fun exercise, I guess, is to note the points at which things have wholly been misunderstood...

Crucial in information theory was the separation of content from conduit -- information from the vehicle that transports it

Yes, but we are doing that only for the process of investigation - it's called abstraction, and it's what mathematicians do. Gilder asks us to read 'assume a spherical cow' as a proof that cows actually are spherical.

In my book Telecosm (2000), I showed that the most predictable available information carriers were the regular waves of the electromagnetic spectrum and prophesied that all digital information would ultimately flow over it in some way.

They already do and always have. Eliminating EM leaves us with what? Even smoke signals are EM... Real good prophecy there, bud.

It is above physics and chemistry on the epistemological ladder and cannot be subsumed under chemical and physical rules. It harnesses chemistry and physics to its own purposes.

And again, the idea of the epistemological ladder isn't to prove or show anything. It is a matter of convenience meant to allow us to make predictions. The thing about making the WTC out of lego is that it *can* be made out of lego, but that it would take a ridiculously long time. Physics and chemistry deal with things with a level of detail that it simply extraneous in most normal biology. Biology, chemistry and so on are in the end just human distinctions, dealing with the levels with which we find familiar.

Instead, Gilder sees that quote and thinks 'of course the WTC isn't made of lego bricks. It's made of glass and steel and concrete. So biology must not be made of chemistry and physics.'

Sigh. Does anyone with a brain cell read NR?

Maybe Gilder facts are wrong. But don't confuse me with facts because I don't really care whether their wrong. The essential argument of the ID theorists may not be mathematically rigorous but it seems to me it nevertheless has merit. What are ID theorists essentially saying. They are trying to say that if you have some world in which you have some simple laws and you simulate it for a long time then you do not expect to see anything except either random garbage or something very simple. In order to get something really cool you probably have to be very selective. For instance if I take a set of random rules and put them in a computer do I really think that by simulating them for a long time I am really going to see anything interesting. No. I will probably see random garbage or something very simple and repetitive. Now if I use my brain and I experiment a little and select very carefully I might be able to choose a world where I do see something interesting.

This is not a bad argument. The only problem is of course the defintion of interesting which appear to be something along the lines of "not to random" but not too simple either. In other words something that does not have infinite K .complexity (random) but also does not have close to zero K. complexity. ID theorists are not alone in thinking in this way. It seems to me that a reoccuring them in science is that you have some field of possibilities that fall into three categories 1) random 2) complex and having some rich structure 3) extremely simple. In most cases the vast majority of possibilities fall into category 1 and there is a very small number falling into category 2 or 3. Scientists tend to focus on 2. This idea occurs in all areas of science and mathematics: that the truly interesting and meaningful things are a very small number embedded in a much larger universe of meaningless random crap. Now the only question is what do you define as meaningful or interesting and what is random. Maybe from the point of view of some Alien our universe would just be random and nothing would be meaningful. Maybe everything is just arbritrary. THis of course implies that there is nothing fundamental and everything is arbitrary including science and math.

If you don't think that everything is arbitrary and random crap then I think the only way to explain the order and complexity of this world is to invoke the anthropic principle. This would imply that there are an infinite number of universes and most are random crap. A vanishingly small number are like ours. It is not improbable for us to exist in a world like this because the fact that we exist means that we must live in a world capable of supporting life which implies some kind of order. The problem with this argument is that it makes a very large hypothesis of there being millions of worlds which we can't observe.

So, what you're saying is:

Whether or not the people arguing for ID are spouting utter meaningless nonsense is irrelevant. But since you can't imagine how the complexity of the world could have developed without bringing in an intelligent designer, they must be right.

One thing that George Gilder particularly missed is that mathematics is about formal systems and, unlike physics, makes no statment about its relationship to the 'real' world. In most cases, any relationship between a mathematical model and the real world must be proven with experiments. Much of the gibberish in his text lies in his attempt to slip untrue assumptions about the relationships between math and reality past us.

By Gregory de Mare (not verified) on 04 Jul 2006 #permalink

Gregory:

My only disagreement with what you said is that he *isn't doing any math*. Dembski routinely does stuff where he creates constrained mathematical models, and then tries to claim that conclusions about his models must apply to the real world without demonstrating the validity of his model. Gilder doesn't even do that: he just invokes the terminology of mathematics to make it look like there's something deep behind his argument. In fact, the entire thing comes down to "I think evolution is wrong because things are just too darned complicated, and I don't see how that could have happened". But that doesn't sound impressive enough, so he dresses it up by throwing names and terms around.

I don't actually think that Guilder believes the drivel he's spouting either. Like a lot of creationists, he's bringing in science that he doesn't understand for the 'halo' effect, the same way that TV ads use actors dressed up as doctors to make the product seem like it's backed up by medical science, when it's most likely just snake oil.

By ImmanuelGoldstein (not verified) on 04 Jul 2006 #permalink

Mark,

Thanks, I agree. Gilder is also trying to slip assumptions about mathematics past us and in no way is he 'doing' math.

By Gregory de Mare (not verified) on 04 Jul 2006 #permalink

First of all, I'd like to commend you on your patient dissection of various misuses of math and science. I'm concerned (and frequently irritated) by attempts like Gilder's pile of irrelevencies, but seem to lack the patience to dissect it as completely as you have.

A couple of short comments: Gilder's comment:

In my book Telecosm (2000), I showed that the most predictable available information carriers were the regular waves of the electromagnetic spectrum and prophesied that all digital information would ultimately flow over it in some way.

Wow. I'm amazed. He really was quite the visionary. At the time, all the rest of the world's scientists and technologists were betting on steam to carry digital information.

The "crucial separation of content from conduit" that Gilder speaks of was crucial because it enabled a breakthrough: prior to Shannon's work, people couldn't wrap their head around what the problem of sending information actually was. It was crucial because by performing the separation, you actually could make progress in understanding how to engineer systems to reliably transfer bits from one place to the other. You didn't need to consider whether the bits represented video, or audio, or stock data, or anything else: the same engineering principles applied. It was not crucial because it represented some aspect of underlying physical reality. Indeed, how could it? Shannon's channel capacity theorem is a mathematical theorem dealing with a mathematical abstraction.

Gilder's claim "no possible knowledge of the computer's materials can yield any information whatsoever about the actual content of its computations" is staggering in its wrongness. The computations that are performed by a computer don't occur by magic: they occur as the result of physical processes, and those physical processes are clearly understandable and the underlying computation determined in terms of transitions in the physical state of the underlying machine.

If someone didn't understand anything about the work that Gilder describes, this kind of rhetoric might actually be convincing. That's the scary part of Gilder and Dembski: they might actually be able to wrap themselves in the mantle of scientific respectability and convince a reasonable number of people that their work is valid. Keep up the good work in trying to dissect their subterfuges.

No possible knowledge of the computer's materials can yield any information whatsoever about the actual content of its computations.

Wim van Eck disproved that over twenty years ago, and myriad timing and other side-channel attacks have been devised as well. Sheesh.

None of this is written with the scholar in mind. The brainless faithful will continue to parade this around saying "See, I told you creationism is right", and will continue to send in their cash. Pure snake oil for the mindless.

Wow. Just... wow. Imagine if all the time and energy clowns like Gilder and Dembski waste on speculative wanking was actually spent on, you know, doing something. Like, for example, actual science.

Great post. Looks like you've got a cool blog here - looking forward to checking it out.

One of my pet peeves is when people try to take the (in)completeness results and spin them into "showing" some sort of metaphysical dualistic bullshit...

By banachspace (not verified) on 04 Jul 2006 #permalink

So, if we want to boil the argument down to its essence:

(1) If we had a world without self-reproducing systems, and it had systems as complex as the life we see, they would have to have been created.

(2) By the way, ignore that fact that living things are self-reproducing.

It's almost tragic, in its own way: the digital death-throes of a dying class. Gilder belongs to the fading, historical minority of those impressed by scientific/fundamental knowledge but not equipped mentally to handle it. Theologians, metaphysicians, shamen, oracles- they had their fun, and Western science had to pull the rug out from them with their "objectivity."

Unfortunately, they run the country.

-M

By Michael Hogan (not verified) on 04 Jul 2006 #permalink

Assman:

Go read up on cellular automata and the whole rest of chaos theory/complexity theory. Simple rules do give complicated results.

Mathematician Gregory Chaitin, however, has shown that biology is irreducibly complex in a more fundamental way

Reading through this again, I think I have a clearer idea of what Gilder misread. Chaitin may have said that biology is irreducible, because it is complex.

What this actually means is that biology is not readily open to reductive investigation. As opposed to, say, fundamental physics. In investigating biology, it is not generally useful to take pieces apart and study them in isolation, building up a knowledge of the 'atoms' of a living thing and then put them back together in order to reconstruct the more familiar world. Because of the complexity of biological subjects, the effects of individual 'parts' are hidden by larger scale interactions. The biologist does not deeply care about how molecules are reacting, or even worse, how quantum mechanics allows reactions to occur. He instead focuses on observing large scale group behaviour, in terms of organs, organisms or populations. In fact, evolutionary biology is precisely one of the non-reductive methods that is recommended, where mechanics are generally ignored in favour of a focus on collective genetic trends.

Assman,

Maybe Gilder facts are wrong. But don't confuse me with facts because I don't really care whether their wrong. The essential argument of the ID theorists may not be mathematically rigorous but it seems to me it nevertheless has merit. What are ID theorists essentially saying. They are trying to say that if you have some world in which you have some simple laws and you simulate it for a long time then you do not expect to see anything except either random garbage or something very simple. In order to get something really cool you probably have to be very selective. For instance if I take a set of random rules and put them in a computer do I really think that by simulating them for a long time I am really going to see anything interesting. No. I will probably see random garbage or something very simple and repetitive. Now if I use my brain and I experiment a little and select very carefully I might be able to choose a world where I do see something interesting.

One of the most common misconceptions (or misrepresentations) among creationists is the idea that evolution is a purely random process. It is not. Mutation is somewhat random, but not purely. And natural selection is not random at all.

Over time, yes, a truly random process left to itself will generate no signal. Natural selection is the key. Every time a system arises that improves its self-propagation rate even slightly over other systems, natural selection tends to preserve that system. Eventually, that system predominates over other, less efficient systems, until it is replaced by one still more efficient. And so it goes.

To use your computer analysis, it's as though you set up your "random" processes to produce various random combinations of numbers, and then had another criterion added: the first 1 million digits of the number pi. Your system is programmed so that every time a process generates two or more digits in sequence that match part of pi, that program is awarded a little more of the computer's processing power, while other programs are awarded a little less. That increases the speed at which the favored program runs, and increases its chances of adding another correct digit to its sequence, and getting still more speed as a reward.

In a system like this, eventually one program or another will emerge supreme. You couldn't predict at the beginning which one it would be, but you know that there will be a winner sooner or later. That's because the processes are random, but the standard against which they are matched is not.

So, yes, the fact that Dembski, Gilder, and other ID theorists are fundamentally wrong about the facts does make a difference. They are basing their whole theory on a purely random process of evolution that doesn't exist in the real world. The real process of evolution doesn't work in a way that is consistent with their ideas.

> So, what you're saying is:

Whether or not the people arguing for ID are spouting utter meaningless nonsense is irrelevant. But since you can't imagine how the complexity of the world could have developed without bringing in an intelligent designer, they must be right.

Actually I don't have to imagine how the complexity of the world developed without bringing in an intelligent designer. All I have to do is propose a theory and you either have to show its false or propose a better alternative. What I am arguing is that none of the proposed alternatives to the intelligent designer hypothesis are that great. Also if you don't believe in intelligent design then what do you believe : 1) nothing 2) anthropic principle 3) our universe is not special or particularly complex 4) other

As to the first point, yes it is irrelevant that the creationists are spouting utter nonsense at least for the purpose of knowing how right/wrong the intelligent design hypothesis is. In other words I am saying that the intelligent design hypothesis stands apart from those who advocate it and the nonsense they spout.

After going all hyper-logical on us, FhnuZoag trips on his necktie by offering an utterly fallacious conclusion:

"Sigh. Does anyone with a brain cell read NR?"

Lemme see if I can work out the unspoken chain-of reasoning here, paraphrasing FhnuZoag:

**Gilder is writing gibberish about information theory in National Review**

[most likely true, given Mark's critique]

**All NR readers will accept Gilder's piece uncritically**

[definitely not demonstrated, since thousands of conservative scientists do not "buy" ID at all, and instead embrace Darwin. Many are the same scientists who do not "buy" human-induced global warming. Some of these scientists likely subscribe to NR. Non-scientific NR readers lacking background in Information Theory, ID or Darwinism will likely not wade through Gilder's turgid commentary. Some, biased against Darwin -- like NR contributor Tom Bethell -- will applaud Gilder's efforts to use Info Theory to debunk Natural Selection, whether or not they understand what he is saying. So at best, some NR readers may agree with Gilder, but no one knows how many.]

**THEREFORE all NR readers are morons.**

BZZZZTTTTTT!!!!!!

[Gilder's article offers no evidence whatsoever about the intelligence of NR subscribers, no more than Al Gore's movie about global warming demonstrates anything about the intelligence of those who pay to view it.]

What we have here, ladies and gentlemen, is a perfect example of reason and rationality being jettisoned in favor of mindless emotional bias against conservatives. If no one at NR has working neurons, then why are so many of its contributors very smart commentators who fence intellectually with some of the best on the left, and why are so many of its subscribers up-scale professionals?

Gratuitous slurs such as FhnuZoag's will go down well at Daily Kos. But they have no place here.

By fulldroolcup (not verified) on 04 Jul 2006 #permalink

Mark says:
"Space, time - they don't make a difference. Gilder doesn't get that."

Perhaps it is poetic license. But Gilder is so bad elsewhere so one can't tell.

An analog situation is a company. Transferring materials, work, and yes, some info through the company repeatedly to make a product is systematised as a process. It is essential to minimise time, since other resources are more constrained. Projects are onceoff, to make a prototype, say. It is essential to minimise other resources, since time is more constrained. But at the end of the day, repeating projects is a process itself. Same difference.

I think it is ironic that Mark used work of Chaitin to show the vauity of IC ( http://scienceblogs.com/goodmath/2006/06/the_problem_with_irreducibly_c… ).

Fhnu says:
""It is above physics and chemistry on the epistemological ladder and cannot be subsumed under chemical and physical rules. It harnesses chemistry and physics to its own purposes."

And again, the idea of the epistemological ladder isn't to prove or show anything."

On the thread on Panda's Thumb (which is down rigth now) someone pointed out that if anything information must precede intelligence, since intelligence needs information to be intelligent about. :-)

Leaving aside the philosophy, in physics this is true. Bigbang starts out in a lowentropy state. (Why and how is open questions.) Symmetry breaks makes inflation, which blows up initial quantum randomness (highentropy generator, as Mark notes) on a cosmological scale, and seed the initial galaxy structure. So a metaphysical ladder is substrate - information - intelligence.

Mark V says:
"The computations that are performed by a computer don't occur by magic: they occur as the result of physical processes,"

Indeed. I'm reminded of a general result that the property of memory means that the system has amplification &> 1. So you know that a classical computer need some energy for memory as well as for computation.

banachspace wrote

One of my pet peeves is when people try to take the (in)completeness results and spin them into "showing" some sort of metaphysical dualistic bullshit...

An example of that being touted by ID advocates is this one. Dembski touts it as an ID-friendly peer reviewed paper. I'd love to see Mark take a shot at it.

amplification > 1

Wow. Just... wow. Imagine if all the time and energy clowns like Gilder and Dembski waste on speculative wanking was actually spent on, you know, doing something. Like, for example, actual science.

Posted by: fnxtr | July 4, 2006 04:12 PM

They did imagine what would happen if they stopped spouting this bullshit. Their bank accounts would shrink. Dude, Dembski charges \$200/hr for 'consulting'. He has figured out how to maximize his bank account. And it's not by being a regular, respectable scientist. It's by telling some tards what they want to hear.

RBH,
Thank you for mentioning the Voie paper here! It is an irritating mess, especially since it is published (in a peerrewied ?) "Chaos, Solitons and Fractals". It would be nice to see someone make also a professional answer to it eventually.

assman says:
"For instance if I take a set of random rules and put them in a computer do I really think that by simulating them for a long time I am really going to see anything interesting."

This is a strawman. Evolution aren't random rules. Even the subset of RM+NS, locally attempting to increase fitness, can be used to solve interesting problems. You can see this yourself by playing around with various genetic algorithms free on the web. And then we have the fact that evolution evolves - the mechanisms and their tunings are constantly evolving.

But there is no global goal either, fitness may mean adding functions or loosing functions. Variation in environment, exploration of functionality in new adaptations, mutations and neutral drift contributes to making it random.

"It seems to me that a reoccuring them in science is that you have some field of possibilities that fall into three categories 1) random 2) complex and having some rich structure 3) extremely simple."

Another strawman. Definitions of complexity are various and contingent. IDists tries to use KC complexity. (But as for example Mark shows, they are constantly failing.)

"THis of course implies that there is nothing fundamental and everything is arbitrary including science and math."

You don't know how science works. It is based on observations by safeguarded methods which quarantees that it isn't arbitrary but explaining said observations.

"The problem with this argument is that it makes a very large hypothesis of there being millions of worlds which we can't observe."

Actually, in variants of inflation (which was confirmed but not explained by the latest WMAP data) or even variants of bigbang itself, multiuniverses are natural. If they are, it is another great universality assumption with sometimes observationally effects. It makes our universe nonunique, and some variants makes our time dimension nonunique too. (Decoupled universes.) So it is the smallest assumption.

Errr! Excuse me, Mark - I mean a published answer. And perhaps a complete blog essay is enough. Talkorigins seem to use those.

"Variation in environment, exploration of functionality in new adaptations, mutations and neutral drift contributes to making it random."

And coevolution. Must...not...forget...coevolution. (I'm in answer creationist zombie mode by now. It is zombie to zombie, sometimes. :-)

well, both sides of the aurgument here are difficult for me. but i see that the ID folks are getting very sophisticated. if i would have tryed to read this gilders statements on my own i would have thought he was fooling me with facts. haveing read this column i see that once again the ID folks are still trying to baffle me with bullshit.

assman:
"For instance if I take a set of random rules and put them in a computer do I really think that by simulating them for a long time I am really going to see anything interesting. No. I will probably see random garbage or something very simple and repetitive. Now if I use my brain and I experiment a little and select very carefully I might be able to choose a world where I do see something interesting."

Stephen Wolfram, in 'A New Kind of Science' has proven that an extremely simple computer program (a few lines) with the right initial conditions can produce patterns of irreducible complexity.

Wolfram is the author of 'Mathematica' and holds the Isaac Newton Chair of Physics, Mathematics and Computer Science at the University of Illinois.

By bruce lulu (not verified) on 04 Jul 2006 #permalink

Gilder is and always has been an idiot, ass, and all-around bad person (just check out his bio at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Gilder).

On Gregory Chaitin: Chaitin says that *mathematics*, not biology, is irreducibly complex, but he doesn't mean by that anything like what the IDiots mean. Chaitin's notion is about mathematical facts that are "random", that are true for no particular reason, and cannot be derived from an axiomatic system any less arbitrary than the fact itself. The IDiots' notion is totally different (and Gilder either knows that or is even more stupid than I had imagined):

The IDiots' "irreducible complexity" refers to structures in which every component is essential, so removal of any component makes the structure non-functional. The IDiots claim that irreducibly complex biological systems cannot have evolved. But this IDiotic claim is in fact idiotic, to an extraordinary degree. For one thing, their purported examples of irreducibly complex systems aren't. But, beyond that, rather than irreducibly complex systems refuting the theory of evolution, the toe *predicts* such systems, since they are resistant to change and thus, once evolved, are persistent. The IDiots' boneheaded "logic" is based on the grossly erroneous assumption that evolution always proceeds by adding a component to one functional system to produce another functional system (and thus, according to the IDiots, any component removed from a functional system must leave a functional system). But in fact evolution often involves the *elimination* of redundant components or, even more often, changes that shift the function of a system. So a system that can't function if any component is removed says nothing about its evolability, since the last step in its evolution need not have been an addition of a component.

By truth machine (not verified) on 04 Jul 2006 #permalink

"I think it is ironic that Mark used work of Chaitin to show the vauity of IC ( http://scienceblogs.com/goodmath/2006/06/the_problem_with_irreducibly_c… )."

Oy. That is sad; it's almost as wrong-headed as Gilder's nonsense. It's absurd to suppose that Chaitin has mathematically demonstrated that, for instance, one can't show that your body minus any one of your major organs is not functionally equivalent to your intact body. But perhaps even worse than the claims in that piece is the way the commenters were treated.

By truth machine (not verified) on 04 Jul 2006 #permalink

fulldroolcup says:
Gratuitous slurs such as FhnuZoag's will go down well at Daily Kos. But they have no place here.

Too be fair, almost everything at The Corner is full-on nonsense and enough so to bring the quality of the magazine into doubt enough so that I'm not going to waste any of my limited time on this planet bothering with it.

While your ad hominem about Daily Kos may fly well with Conerites, it nonetheless moots any other point you may have while lecturing people.

BZZZZTTTTTT!!!!!!

By sixteenwords (not verified) on 04 Jul 2006 #permalink

Has anyone looked at ID from the pov of a woman? It's basically a really silly religion which derives from the belief that the only good babies come from God. Virgin birth, you know, which defies all knowledge of biology-compare to ID which postulates, well, a virgin birth of the Universe-it's almost a logical extension of their own faith. And of course their vision of the upcoming Rapture could itself be postulated as a sort of virgin birth...

For the Christian faith to work it requires immutable elements. God, who doesn't change; society rules which must persist forever. How could they possibly accept the complications of information theory? There are far more interesting faiths which hold that the observer and the observed are both changed by the process of exchanging information. In such faiths, the primacy of life isn't the retention of some kind of mental or physical purity for the express purpose of mystical boinking by a sexually frustrated God, but the encouragement of productive communication and therefore development. Since this sort of faith is more fitting to the facts and doesn't require either mental or physical chastity belts, I reject the former. The Universe is not some archaic helpless female waiting for Mighty God Penis to mystically impregnate her with his Holy Creation. It is a continual exchange of information which, apparently, happens to drive towards complexity.

Kinda like observable life, if the observer isn't a complete ass.

"Also if you don't believe in intelligent design then what do you believe : 1) nothing 2) anthropic principle 3) our universe is not special or particularly complex 4) other"

I see no reason to think that our universe is at all special or complex; I'm not special, I'm just another fairly average human being, and I make up an imperceptibly minute part of this universe; and it's already been trivially shown (Conway's Game of Life and other cellular automata) that very simple initial rules applied to a situation can produce complex behaviour.

So, yes, the fact that Dembski, Gilder, and other ID theorists are fundamentally wrong about the facts does make a difference. They are basing their whole theory on a purely random process of evolution that doesn't exist in the real world. The real process of evolution doesn't work in a way that is consistent with their ideas.

In the programming world, we have a maxim that describes the type of argument Gilder makes: GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out). If your basic premises aren't correct, you will never get any conclusion that's not trash.

Assman: All I have to do is propose a theory and you either have to show its false or propose a better alternative.

The burden of proof is on you if you propose a theory. Until you prove that your theory is valid we don't have to even consider it.

Assman:

>Actually I don't have to imagine how the complexity of the
>world developed without bringing in an intelligent
>designer. All I have to do is propose a theory and you
>either have to show its false or propose a better
>alternative.

Wrong. The person who proposes a theory needs to support it. It's not the case that as long as you can come up with some idea, it's incumbent on everyone else to show you why you're wrong; you need to have some real argument for why you're right. That's the problem with the whole ID thing: they've got a theory that says "Some things in the universe can't be the result of natural processes, they must have had an intelligent designer intervene to produce them." But they can't present a non-nonsense argument for why that must be true.

>What I am arguing is that none of the proposed alternatives
>to the intelligent designer hypothesis are that great. Also
>if you don't believe in intelligent design then what do you
>believe : 1) nothing 2) anthropic principle 3) our universe
>is not special or particularly complex 4) other

You aren't arguing anything. You are asserting something. It's not an argument until you actual provide some evidence to support it beyond "I can't imagine it working any other way".

One of the things that I've learned from being a computer scientist is that some remarkably trivial things can produce incredible complexity. I don't need to invoke magic to explain complexity; I know that complexity can emerge quite easily from simplicity.

As for the anthropic principle: the fact of the matter is, we don't know how the fundamental properties of the universe were set; we don't know how much freedom there was in setting the initial values; we don't really know what kind of universe would have emerged had they been different. Given that amount of ignorance, arguing that there must be something special about our universe is nothing but unsupported assertion: it must be special because we're here.

>As to the first point, yes it is irrelevant that the
>creationists are spouting utter nonsense at least for the
>purpose of knowing how right/wrong the intelligent design
>hypothesis is. In other words I am saying that the
>intelligent design hypothesis stands apart from those who
>advocate it and the nonsense they spout.

Intelligent design claims to be a scientific theory. If the people who propose/support it can't make a reasonable non-bullshit argument in favor of it, then what value does it have? To be a real theory, you need to be able to make some argument for it beyond the fact that you can't imagine what it means if it's wrong.

ID, as a scientific theory proposed by people like Dembski and Gilder, is total garbage. Arguing that there's some ID theory that isn't garbage, but that no one has actually proposed it as a well-developed theory is just a way of evading argument about the subject.

Assman lives up to his name, and shaker calls him on it. Well done.

By Anonymous (not verified) on 05 Jul 2006 #permalink

truth machine:

First of all: I didn't claim that *Chaitin* said anything about Behe or the IC nonsense. Applying Chaitin's theorem to Behe's work is entirely my idea; any blame for misapplication is entirely my own. I have no idea what Greg thinks of how I used it.

But: the proof that I did does *not* say "one can't show that your body minus any one of your major organs is not functionally equivalent to your intact body".

Behe's argument is that there are systems that have a property of minimal complexity - that certain biological systems have the smallest possible number of parts; and that this somehow proves that they couldn't be the result of evolution. That argument requires demonstrating that the alleged IC system is, in fact, minimal. The proof is that you *can't do that*. You can't prove that there's no way to construct an equivalent system with fewer pieces. And if you can't prove that - then the argument that the system is somehow special because it's minimal becomes a non-starter.

(And as usual, I need to insert the caveat that even without the information theory argument, Behe's IC stuff is gibberish; it presupposes that evolution is strictly additive; that no evolutionary change can ever remove anything. As soon as removal becomes a possibility, Behe's argument also falls apart.)

All I have to do is propose a theory and you either have to show its false or propose a better alternative.

Ye olde shifting of the burden of proof.

A classic example comes from Criswell's final speech at the end of Ed Wood's Plan 9 from Outer Space: "My friends, you have seen this incident, based on sworn testimony. Can you prove that it didn't happen?". Considering that the incident in question involved grave robbers from space, the burden of proof is being incorrectly assigned.

I'll be interested to see NR's reaction after you send the article refuting Gilder to them. Should be fun.

we force it to carry information by changing the wave itself. The basic frequency of the wave, the carrier, is not modified, but the wave amplitudes are modified - it's not just a simple wave anymore, we've combined the signal and the medium into something different.

A nitpick: the frequency of the carrier can indeed be modified. The traditional parameters of a carrier that can be modified to make it bear information are the amplitude, the frequency and the phase. You can of course mix them and modifiy more than one at the same time. For example, QAM (Quadrature Amplitude Modulation) modifies both the phase and amplitude of the carrier.

Gilder's statements are so vague that I'm not even sure how to begin criticizing them. I'll be generous and try to guess what he means by his contentions that you cannot tell a computer's information from its materials or that DNA does not store information chemically.

Let's start with a less exotic system: a jar of red and blue marbles. To keep it simple, suppose the shape of the jar is sufficient to insure that they form a repeatable spherical packing (with some gentle shaking). Suppose there are n red marbles and n blue marbles. If we label each location in the packing with an integer from 1 to 2n inclusive, it is easy to see that 2n choose n states are possible (i.e. the subset of locations of red marbles).

So we have a specific amount of information stored and can interpreted it as an encoding. Conventional aggregrate statistics about the materials would tell you nothing about the information encoded in this way. Maybe this is what Gilder means with respect to computers. On the other hand, it's relatively simple to read the state of this device using material measurements. It's a little more difficult with a computer, but there's no magic involved. There's nothing special about electromagnetic representation of information either. Except in a trivial sense, this is not an electromagnetic representation.

By analogy, I think what he might be getting at with DNA is that the chemical bonds themselves don't contain the information, and again aggregate measures will tell you very little. Like the marble encoding, DNA is positional in nature. Even if proportions of bases A, C, G, and T did not vary at all the DNA could encode a great deal of information.

The only response I can think of after stretching to figure out his point is "So what?" The DNA code is a positional encoding of molecules connected by chemical bonds. You can quibble over whether it is a "chemical" encoding. It's clearly not an encoding as a EM waveform. Even an EM waveform can switch easily between other encodings. Very early computers used mercury delay lines, which encoded information as a sound wave during part of the trip. You can encode information all kinds of ways, and this has little relevance to evolution.

I'm not absolutely sure if this even qualifies as bad math. There appears to be no math at all, just a lot of buzzwords.

I took a look at the Voie paper. If this is peer-reviewed, standards of peer review are much lower than in my field.

To begin with bibliography reference 1 is to Wikipedia. Now I like Wikipedia, and I use it frequently, but it would never even occur to me to cite it in a publication. What serious academic would offer a citation to a source that might have changed by the time the reader looks it up? What sort of journal would accept this as a valid citation?

Here are some tidbits:

For instance, for an enzyme to replicate itself, it would need to have the intrinsic property of self-replication "by default". Otherwise, it would have to be able to assemble itself from a pool of existing parts, but for this, it would have to "unfold" so that its internal parts could be reconstituted for the copy to be produced [13]. Thus, instead of using terms such as "paradox" and "consistent," it is more relevant to speak of what is physically and practically possible when it comes to physical constructions. These constraints require the categorical distinction between the machine that reads the instructions and the description of the machine [13].

This is obviously false. It is easy to see how replication could be accomplished by a two-component system: molecule A makes molecule B, molecule B makes molecule A. In this case, each molecule functions as both template and enzyme, but it doesn't have to do so simultaneously. Moreover, there is no reason why B and A could not be linked by a flexible tether with no functionally significant secondary structure, in which case you would have a single molecule, in which one end unfolds and is copied by the other end, then the reverse.

This part also is pretty silly:

If some phenomena X (such as life) follows from laws there should be a compression algorithm H(X) with much less information content in bits than X [17]. Biological function and sign systems, resemble the complexity of computer programs, which implies that H(X) is not less than X in bits (at least not if it is an elegant program).

First, it is foolish to say that biological systems "resemble the complexity of computer programs," because there exist numerous examples of trivial computer programs (e.g. "Hello world") so holding up computer programs in general as some sort of index of complexity is idiotic. Then there is the assertion without evidence that "H(X) is not less than X in bits" (by the way, reference 17 is Chaitin) which is essentially assuming the conclusion. Ultimately, this assertion boils down to "Life seems very elegant to me, so it must have a high information content in the Chaitin sense." Moreover, many computer programs are highly compressible, at least as source code, by the trivial expedient of tokenizing the language. Is the same computer program actually less "elegant" when it is expressed in source code than when it is expressed in a compiled form?

The following is also asserted without evidence: "Randomness is not equivalent with miracle, but must take place in some organized manner." What does this even mean? After all, randomness in the real world does take place in an organized manner, being constrained by the laws of physics--indeed, the most random things we know, quantum phenomena, are described by a highly organized mathematical theory.

assman,

Actually I don't have to imagine how the complexity of the world developed without bringing in an intelligent designer. All I have to do is propose a theory and you either have to show its false or propose a better alternative.

And that has been done. The theory you proposed is false because you base it on a misrepresentation of evolution as a random process. It is not random, nor is there any scientific evidence of design guiding it. That proves your theory false.

Your theory is also shown to be useless in any scientific sense, because it is not testable and provides no predictions of future observations. A scientific theory has to meet those two criteria.

There are also better alternatives. The theory of evolution as it currently stands explains what we observe more effectively and with better predictive value.

So that takes care of your two requirements, and even adds one.

What I am arguing is that none of the proposed alternatives to the intelligent designer hypothesis are that great.

Unfortunately you haven't actually addressed the alternatives. All you have done is present a misinterpretation of evolution.

Also if you don't believe in intelligent design then what do you believe : 1) nothing 2) anthropic principle 3) our universe is not special or particularly complex 4) other

Other. That is to say, the actual theory of evolution, and actual cosmological theory, neither of which is listed among your choices.

In other words I am saying that the intelligent design hypothesis stands apart from those who advocate it and the nonsense they spout.

Unfortunately it doesn't, because "intelligent design" IS nonsense, in any scientific sense.

fulldroolcup:

Put it simply, I would see the publishing of an article like Gilders as a reason to stop reading a publication, because it would seem to me that either

(a) The publication has no reasonable editorial policy, in which case I'm better off reading slashdot or something.
(b) The publication has low expectations of its readership - that they expect their readership to swallow this sort of gibberish, in which case I would not enjoy being mocked
(c) The publications is run by idiots who actually agree with this, in which case, I would not wish to subsidise their existence.

As far as I know, National Review has a clear political perspective. That's kinda the point. They can't say that they are publishing this because they want to show a diversity of viewpoints, or so on, because that isn't their stated aim. Their aim is to present news from a perspective that is tailored towards their 'target audience'. I assert that only an idiot would want to be part of that target audience, if Gilder's article defines it.

My statement was an offhand remark, but also a challenge. If there are people with a braincell reading national review, why aren't they doing something? If I see a decent rebuttal being published on NR - i.e. one that is presented realistically, not in some ludicrous 'let's be balanced' fashion, then I might have some respect for it.

In other words I am saying that the intelligent design hypothesis stands apart from those who advocate it and the nonsense they spout.

What ID hypothesis? I'd like to hear more about it.

So far, none of the ID crowd has come up with anything more than an argument from ignorance and lack of imagination, like the one you've repeated. It'd been the same old thing for thousands of years. When we figured out lightning, IDers just moved to the next unknown (at least unknown to a layman).

I wonder if this guy is related to Donkey.

I did a google search for 'bad math' and I came across this amusing blog article. Being a newcomer to this blog I'm not sure if you already adressed this guy... or would even bother.

1. Percentage of women over 40 who have breast cancer: 1%

2. 80% of women age forty with breast cancer who get a mamogram will get a positive result.

3. 9.6% of the women (age forty) who get a mamogram without breast cancer will also get a positive test.

4. You (or your wife and who just so happens to be 40) have (has) gotten a positive mamogram test for breast cancer; what is the probability your wife has breast cancer?

The answer is 7.8% The result follows from an application of Bayes theorem, which Bayesian statisiticians view as an important way of evaluating data and making inferences. Mark's position is that we can't apply the population number (1%) to an individual and come up with the new answer of 7.8%.

Doesn't he answer his own question with his #3. If the probability of getting a false positive is 9.6% then the probability of not getting one is 90.4%, asuming the mamogram was positive. Right?

I realize he is just tring to validate his racism.

Here

Um, no. Remember that he's talking about getting a positive test given not-cancerous, as opposed to being not-cancerous given a positive test.

So to use Bayes to get cancerous given positive, we do:

P(cancerous | positive) = P(p|c) * P(c) / (P(p|c) * P(c) + P(p|!c) * P(!c) = 7.8%

At risk of dragging things further off topic, I'll just point out that you've shown one of the most common errors in probability theory, otherwise known by the dictum that

"The probability of evidence appearing if a defendent were innocent does not equal the probability that the defendent is innocent given that evidence has appeared."

Don't feel too bad about it. This thing appears horrifically often in court cases.

Some points:

1. Evolution is not testable and has absolutely no predictive value. Using evolution why don't you make a prediction or do the same using your cosmological theory. Or give me a test for either theory. You can't. No scientist can. This is simply because of the timescales involved. The same cannot be said for Newton's laws which are indespensible in physics and have enormous predictive value. For instance I can predict the exact time of arrival of Halley's commet using Netwons laws or I can predict the trajectory of a rock that is thrown. The same kinds of easy quantitative predictions can be made with Maxwell's laws or thermodynamics. This is why these theories are known as laws because each of them have been tested quantitatively thousands of times each year. I would also put basic quantum mechanics in this category because it has been the subject of extensive testing and has made a large number of successful quantitative predictions. However there are many other theories that have not been so adequately tested and have to date very little predictive value like General Relativity, QED and the other QFT's, string theory etc. And there are other theories which can never be tested and have zero predictive value like evolution and the big bang theory.

2. The current cosmology is part of my list of choices because the current cosmology requires the anthropic principle. The anthropic principle is not something I chose to invent. It is something secular physicists invented to explain the arbitrariness of our universe. The arbitrariness being in the physical constants which in the Standard Model number something like 26.

3. Large parts of the current cosmological theory have not received any adequate testing like for instance General Relativity. Also there are massive problems with current cosmological theory which is why they require things ad hoc devices like dark matter.

4. I realize evolution is not random and that a directive force of natural selection guides it and I also acknowledge that with appropriate fitness functions evolution can work very well. My point is very simple: The vast majority of fitness functions are ones on which a genetic algorithm will perform poorly. It is always easy to invent a fitness function on which genetic algorithms perform poorly. This is the point of the No Free Lunch Theorem. In fact let me make a provocative statement and say that the chance of finding a fitness function randomly selected out of the totality of fitness functions on which genetic algorithms do perform better than a completely random algorithm is precisely zero (I have no proof of this but based on intuition I would say its true). You must select your fitness function carefully for a genetic algorithm to perform well. In other words having enough order in the universe for evolution to work is very exceptional and unusual.

5. Basically my point is that you don't get something for nothing. Getting an ordered universe is not normal. It is highly unusual. Order is not normal or natural. It is extremely unnatural and unusual. This is the point Chaitin's work. Randomness and disorder are the norm not the exception. An ordered world has a probability of zero. What is an ordered world. Using Chaitin theory I could say a complex yet order world is one in which datum of sensory experience are highly compressible. We live in such a world which is why science works. The fact that we live in a world which is ordered enough for science to work is unusual.

assman:

That's nothing but empty regurgitation of the same old, oft-rebutted creationist bullshit.

If you really believe that evolution has no predictive value - well, there's very little that I can say to convince you otherwise. The evidence for it, and its predictive value is so overwhelming that you have to reject the whole of modern biology, all of the results of genetic analysis; all of the work of modern epidemiology. It's foolishness.

No free lunch is a pile of bullshit: it's based on a false model of evolution. Evolution is not a single fixed deterministic fitness function trying to match a random terrain. If you must fit it into that kind of space, it's an adaptive, *non*-deterministic function. And all of the NFL stuff is built on that false foundation; it's garbage, which says nothing about evolution.

General relativity has actually been the subject of rather a lot of tests, all of which it has passed. From GPS satellites to atom smashers, we have huge amounts of experimental verification of the predictions of relavitity.

And pretending that Chaitin's theory has *anything* to do with what you're talking about is nonsense. It's just the usual creationist bullshit: take some bit of math of science that you don't understand, misapply, and insist that the misapplication is meaningful.

Quote:
Crucial in information theory was the separation of content from conduit -- information from the vehicle that transports it. It takes a low-entropy (predictable) carrier to bear high-entropy (unpredictable) messages. A blank sheet of paper is a better vessel for a new message than one already covered with writing. In my book Telecosm (2000), I showed that the most predictable available information carriers were the regular waves of the electromagnetic spectrum and prophesied that all digital information would ultimately flow over it in some way. Whether across time (evolution) or across space (communication), information could not be borne by chemical processes alone, because these processes merged or blended the medium and the message, leaving the data illegible at the other end.
End Quote - my bold

You know, blank paper written on with ink is a chemical processes that 'bares' information quite well. He uses an example that disproves the point he is trying to make.

By Anonymous (not verified) on 28 Jan 2007 #permalink

re FhunZoag:

Your "reasoning" re the critiques to the article in question boils down to: "They disagree with me, THEREFORE they are stupid. If they don't disagree with me, they will publish a refuation of the original article, agreeing with me. But NOTHING they write is true; everything they write is false. They are wrong about EVERYTHING. ALL conservative magazines and newspapers ROUTINELY publish articles reinforcing their bias, when they should be publishing counter-articles against the grain of their bias. Liberal papers do it all the time."

You call that reasoning, sir?

Do you think the sun shines from your fundament, sir? I am sure you have looked at your arse closely in the hope that your narcissism would be confirmed, even at the risk of appearing to outsiders as something like a jelly doughnut.

Is it beyond your meagre intellectual talents to understand that I DISAGREE with Gilder, on the merits?

Do you understand what arguing "on the merits" means?

Isn't it interesting that a person who claims to have all the answers about complex scientifc questions can airly dismiss those he disagrees with, WITHOUT OFFERING A REJOINDER THAT MARSHALS FACTS AND REASONING TO SUPPORT HIS POINT?

Face it: deep down, you're not only shallow, but dumb. You should check yourself into Intellectual Rehab as soon as you can.

By fulldroolcup (not verified) on 14 Mar 2007 #permalink

This thread about George Gilder makes me sad, in a way not directly related to any purported content. My wife and I were friends and coworkers for many years with James B. Stephens, the 2nd most patented man in JPL history. Jim Stephens passed away with little warning a few months ago, and we miss him. The connection with this thread is that Jim was very excited by Gilder's "Telecosm" (2000), for no reason that I could clearly understand. Jim let his international consulting business (through which we'd earned over \$100,000) completely fade away while he chased some philosophical will o' the wisp associated with Gilder, somehow blended in a way I also couldn't follow, with JÃ¼rgen Habermas. We fell more and more out of touch with him, as he was working without pay for some billionaire on trying to build a political theory from the Gilder-Habermas hybridization. He wanted me to also work on it without pay. Sorry, Jim, our son is going to start at a top 10 Law school in a few months. Money is essential for professional people living in a nice part of the expensive Los Angeles area.

So I'm angry because I suspect that Gilder's nonsense lured away a friend and colleague in what turned out to be the last years of his life, and our real work together -- patentable ideas based on working devices that Jim invented -- died on the vine.

Is nonsense harmless? Is ID a victimless crime? I don't think so. There is an opportunity cost involved. While lost in nonsense, one forgoes the actual meaningful work for which a lifetime of professionalism has been prerequisite.

Smart people can believe stupid ideas. I must be more vigilent than ever to avoid the same trap.