Friday, 15 June 2012

Carnival of Evolution #48 - An Open Letter to P.Z. Myers

Hi there P.Z.

I am writing to you because I see you as someone who is enthusiastic about debunking religion, is interested in evolution, feels strongly about academic freedom, and treats the establishment view of political correctness with the contempt it deserves.

I am also writing to ask why my submission to the Carnival of Evolution – An Evolutionary Model of the Brain's internal language – was not included in Carnival of Evolution No 48, as I would have thought that what I am trying to do was very relevant to your publicly expressed interests.

First of all the model starts by assuming that there are no significant differences in the basic brain mechanisms of humans and animals that cannot be explained in terms of greater capacity plus the effect of culture (driven by language). Such a model clearly undermines the arguments of the religious who want to claim there is a god-given difference.

Secondly the model predicts a point where language driven learning from ones parent's (or other experienced elders) becomes more efficient in evolutionary terms than trial and error learning or simply copying observed actions. The effect probably only means a small change because animals are already able learn quickly about avoiding dangerous situations, and by extending the scope of this “rapid learning” facility the effect would be to turn the brain into an uncritical sponge which automatically absorbs taught ideas – so if you get a child at the right age it is easy to pump them full of religious nonsense.

You might think that a “simple” model of how an animal brain might work would be incapable of supporting an “intellectual power house” but work on an unconventional blue-sky project called CODIL suggests otherwise. It was an attempt to design a “white box” information processor (in contrast to the stored programme computer “black box” approach) which would allow people and processors to work symbiotically together to process open-ended and poorly defined information processing tasks. The CODIL approach used a very similar approach to that proposed in the brain mmodel and its power results by combining a very simple processing architecture with a recursive memory structure , which allows “memory nodes” to be linked together in an almost infinitely complex associative network.

There is one other aspect of the model which needed further thought. While CODIL is very different to the stored program computer (see, for example, The Limitations of the Stored Program Computer) it does have a “programming feature” where part of the information structure can be interpreted as a series of sequential rules. Applied to the evolution of culture this means that it only needed one person to come up with a way of lighting a fire by rubbing two sticks together, or a way of doing arithmetic, and the technique can then be passed on from generation to generation. This approach may well underlie the development of syntax structures in language.


Of course you may consider that the above brainstorming ideas need to be suppressed (by for example not mentioning it in the Carnival of Evolution) because because, as an atheist and scientist you know that the internal decision making mechanisms of the human brain are significantly more advanced than mere animal brains because (a) God made it that way (oops sorry - obviously not), (b) it is a self-evident fact that needs no proof, (c) that is what you were taught at school, (d) there is a proof somewhere in the scientific literature or the bible (oops - sorry again) but you can't give me the reference immediately.

But don't worry – there is another very good reason for you to dismiss my brainstorm. My research assumes that computers took off so quickly that no-one ever stopped to do any blue sky research into the design of inherently human-friendly information processors – and such imaginative research rapidly because impossible once a vast establishment of programmers, systems analysts, professors of Computer Scientists, etc., had a deeply entrenched position to maintain, and a policy of ever faster, ever onward, in the direction we are already committed to. You may reject this approach on the grounds that if a technology is successful and makes a lot of money for a lot of people the underlying science MUST have been thoroughly investigated by someone, somewhere, and proven to be the best for ordinary humans - and not just mathematicians. You may concede that the pioneers at Xerox Parc (whose research led to the graphical interface of Apple, Windows, and later devices) only looked at how to hide the fundamentally unfriendly black box at the heart of every stored program computer.  You may be convinced that the stored program computer approach is the only possible approach (although it is clearly not what the brain does) because you were indoctrinated (oops sorry) taught at school that in order to understand information it was essential to understand programming - and so you have been taught to think a bit like a computer.

Alternatively you may have wielded the axe because you consider what I am trying to do is just bad science. After all modern science involves dividing everything in narrower and still narrower specialities. It is quite obvious that all the simple ideas have been snapped up – so I must be wasting your time, and everyone else's, by suggesting that there is a need to stand as far back as possible and try and get a proper unbiased overview of the wood in which we all live. My “simple ideas” about how the human brain works are easily shot out of the sky. Millions of people are engaged on relevant in depth research if you include all brain studies, how children learn, linguistics and the development of languages, etc. etc., and you note that I am clearly are not up to speed on all the literature. It is therefore easy for you to prove my approach is wrong – by using a technique used by Creationists trying to disprove evolution. You select a few tiny leaves and mutter the words “missing link” or “unexplained complexity” and then claim my whole approach must be rubbish because there is no immediate answer to the “objection”.

Finally exceptional claims need exceptional proof and the failure of the CODIL project proves I was unable to get exceptional proof. Let us just assume that exceptional proof of an idea which questions the establishment position would cost 0.001% of the value of the establishment position. CODIL questions the foundations of the stored program computer for tasks involving human beings and messy open-ended real world problems. You can then point out that I would have had no difficulty in raising 0.001% of the money spent on computers and their applications since 1945. Even if I had failed to raise enough money I am sure from your posts about academic freedom on your blog that you believe that no university would ever bully someone with original ideas to pack it in, even if they had not raised sufficient funds, just because the ideas were politically incorrect.


Enough of the cynicism.

All I ask for is a simple acknowledgement that you had seen the post entitled An Evolutionary Model of the Brain's internal language that I submitted to Carnival of Evolution No 48, and a brief explanation of why you thought it was inappropriate.

If, for some reason, you didn't see my submission, (perhaps it got caught up in a spam filter somewhere) you might care to consider whether it is worth mentioning in a new post on your science blog (as simply adding a footnote to the Carnival is unlikely to be seen).

On the other hand you may think I am some kind of “religious maniac” for introducing some unconventional ideas in order to prove that the human brain is no more than an animal brain with a lot of extra memory, with the ability to absorb vast amount of “culture,” and with no unexplained bits left for the supernatural to hide. If that is how you feel, why not hang me out to dry on your freethought blog – with excerpts from the original post or this email and with lots of little figures to show why you think I am being a silly old fool who is “Trapped by the Box”.

I await your response with interest.


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