The ascription of telos

Written by  on August 27, 2008

Things come in threes. I’m beginning to think that this “law of threes” might be a good gauge for when one should actually speak. Perhaps I’ll try it one day … just keep my mouth shut until there are 3 similar things about which to talk. ;-)

Anyway, I recently hosted a poster at the Engineering in Medicine and Biology Conference (EMBC) entitled: Using an In Silico Liver to Evaluate a Hepatic Enzyme Induction Mechanism. I won’t attempt to explain the contents, here (thank the gods, eh?); but the gist of it was that all models, including in silico (a.k.a. computational), in situ, in vitro, in vivo, indeed ALL ways of interacting with anything, involve what we’re calling a “phenomenal manifold” (a.k.a. an “aspect” as in Aspect-Oriented Programming). Basically, whenever a subject interacts with an object, the interaction is always mediated by some layer … a membrane. The subject cannot reach directly inside the object and manipulate or observe anything she might want to. Such interaction is always distorted, governed, or transduced through this layer. Granted, sometimes the layer can be very transparent so that it seems as if you’re touching the object directly. But in other cases, there are highly nonlinear or unpredictable effects when the subject manipulates the object or the data from observation can be very cryptic or misleading.

Why is this important? Well, in the context of using computational models to understand an extant system, the phenomenal manifold must be explicitly included in the experimental method. Otherwise, the results will not be repeatable and the effort can’t be considered “science”.

That’s the first of the three. The second is that one of us just got their hands on a high powered microscope and his family has been spending quite a bit of time staring at pond water animals through it. This sparked an argument between me and him about the telos of these animals’ motion. I suggested that it was primarily (say 70%) random, probably even Brownian (an aggregate of collisions with much smaller forces). He countered that their movements seem very purposeful, that they very clearly swim from place to place.

Now, I ran this by a few people, including biologists, and they all agree with him. The consensus seems to be that the motions of these animals do have telos and I am wrong. However, I maintain my skepticism primarily because this has the same texture as a mistake I’ve seen people make over and over again, never learning the lesson. We humans always ascribe telos. It is the fallacy of anthropocentrism. Besides, I can imagine many random, including Brownian-style, mechanisms that might generate seemingly purposeful behavior. So, as long as my imagined proto-hypothetical mechanisms are not falsified, my skepticism is appropriate and it’s just sloppy thinking to jump to the conclusion that the motions must be purposeful.

So that’s 2. And I was waiting for my partner to post some pictures or video about this locomotion to launch into the argument, here. But then the third thing came rattling down the pipe. I finally got caught up on my e-mail and, lo’ and behold, I find this post on Panda’s Thumb, wherein we find the telos-obsessed Intelligent Design people misquoting John von Neumann regarding the disturbing randomness at the heart of evolution. It’s useful to requote an excerpt of the quote used by Douglas to show that Berlinski misrepresented von Neuman. 8O

Yet many efficient (?) and purposive (??) media, e.g., language, or the national economy, also look statistically controlled, when viewed from a suitably limited aspect.

Local Induction.

Written by  on August 15, 2008

Flashback to an old simulation

Written by  on August 12, 2008

I got the new Silicon Forest Universe 2.0 poster and flashed back to SwarmCorp‘s multi-scale Alzheimer’s Disease model.  We used a product called “TheBrain”, which has now been forked into several products by TheBrain Technologies, Inc..  Anyway, I dug up our old brain map from my SwarmCorp archives, imported it into the PersonalBrain I just downloaded and here is the result.  I love technology sometimes. … Of course, most times I hate technology.  But this was a nice fugue of nostalgia.  Thanks to TheBrain Technologies!

Note that the ADBrain was built by Chris, whereas I wrote most of the simulation and Visio code to which the ADBrain hooked.


Written by  on August 3, 2008

I just spent the weekend with a few people who knew a lot more about programming the iphone than I did and several people that knew about as much as I did. I can tell you that the Portland group got the best of satellite category for our collectively built app.

(If you look behind the sf group you can see the Portland and Seattle groups in the background)

But given Apple’s NDA I can’t tell you much else.