Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Super Glue

Geoffrey Simmons, author of Billions of Missing Links: A Rational Look at the Mysteries Evolution Can't Explain, is excerpting his book at Evolution News and Views. His latest excerpt is fascinating quite apart from its implications for the debate about the ability of purposeless processes to bring about any significant evolution:

The adhesive used by barnacles is among the strongest in the world. It is reported that a layer merely 3/10,000 of an inch thick can support a weight of 7000 pounds. This relative of the shrimp and crab glues its head down and keeps its feet up to catch the next meal. Its adhesive sets in water at any temperature and will not dissolve in most acids, bases, and solvents. Fossil records suggest it has been used by barnacles unchanged for 400 million years. Nothing seems to be known about its intermediates before that.

Mussels have a similar glue, which sets underwater and has enormous strength. It takes about five minutes for the mussel to create a "dab" of this glue beneath its foot on a piling or rock. Twenty dabs will do it, and the job can be completed overnight. Imagine the consternation of intermediate species when they secreted what they thought was glue, but kept being washed away by the waves. Or the species that couldn't store their glue and found their bivalves stuck together.

It never fails to astonish me that purposeless forces can produce such prodigies of engineering as a glue as strong as this just by accident, but brilliant chemists have trouble producing an adhesive that can keep the heat-resistant tiles from being shaken off the space shuttle during lift-off.


The Illusion of Consciousness

Denyse O'Leary takes us back a couple of years to a claim made by Nicholas Humphrey that what we call consciousness is not real, that the phenomena of conscious experience are just an illusion. Here's Humphrey's reasoning:

Our starting assumption as scientists ought to be that on some level consciousness has to be an illusion. The reason is obvious: If nothing in the physical world can have the features that consciousness seems to have, then consciousness cannot exist as a thing in the physical world. So while we should concede that as conscious subjects we do have a valid experience of there being something in our minds that the rules of the physical universe doesn't apply to, this has to be all it is - the experience of something in our minds."

Since real consciousness would be non-physical, Humphreys concludes, it can't really exist because only physical entities exist. But why not draw the inference that since we have conscious experience, and since conscious experience is non-physical, therefore physical reality is not all there is?

In order to deny the existence of a non-physical level of reality Humphreys has to deny what seems obvious to everyone else, i.e. that we have genuine subjective experiences.

And what's he talking about when he says the denial of the reality of consciousness ought to be the starting assumption of science? Good heavens, how did science manage all these years without making that assumption at all, much less making it its fundamental assumption?

The starting assumption of science is, and should be, that our reason and our senses are generally reliable and that the world can be known through them.

The irony of Humphreys' remark is that it seems he has to make a conscious effort to deny the existence of consciousness. That is, he has an intention, based upon desires, based upon a belief, all of which cause him to will the statement that none of these things really exists except as chemical reactions in the brain. How, though, does a chemical reaction translate into an intention or a belief? What is the precise chemical formula which expresses a desire? Humphreys has no idea, of course. He just knows that there must be one.


Indecent Exposure

Rick Moran at American Thinker has a piece which illustrates why the liberal media are held in such low esteem by so many in this country:

A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times published an exciting story about how the CIA broke 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaik Mohammed. The hero of the story was a nondescript CIA interrogator who astonished his CIA colleagues by eliciting enormous amounts of valuable information from KSM, all by using psychological ploys and developing a rapport with the terrorist rather than the tactics used by the "knuckledraggers" as the interrogator's colleagues called the CIA paramilitary types, who were using waterboarding and other methods of torture.

In the story, the Times saw fit to give the real name of the interrogator - despite pleas from him and the CIA that doing so would place he and his family in danger.

Moran goes on to give the Times' justification for using the interrogator's name and to explain why that justification holds no water.

The point is the Times didn't have to use the man's name, the public didn't have to know the man's name, and the Times was asked not to use the man's name, but they did anyway. Why? What purpose did it serve? And this from a paper whose editorial writers for the last three decades have made a living urging us to be more "sensitive" to the needs and feelings of others.

We drew some flak at Viewpoint for claiming in a post last month that too many in the mainstream media seem to feel it's their job to destroy lives, but what is this if not an example of exactly that? How much peace of mind will this interrogator have for the rest of his life knowing that every would-be jihadi in the U.S. knows who he is and where he and his family live?

The Times' editors are either incredibly obtuse, indifferent to the anxiety they cause others, or malicious. What other conclusion is left for us?