Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Élan vital*

(This post is randomly generated by a text-generating software, character by character)
"Imagine At the border between England and Wales you pass a small town called Abergele. Its railway station has a beautifully kept garden in which, sprawling across the lawn, you are faced with the inscription, set out in small white pebbles: ‘Welcome to Wales by British Railways.’ No one will fail to recognize this as an orderly pattern, deliberately contrived by a thoughtful station-master. And we could refute anyone who doubted this by computing as follows the odds against the arrangement of the pebbles having come about by mere chance. Suppose that the pebbles had originally all belonged to the garden and would, if left to chance, be found in any part of this area with equal probability; we could compare the large number of arrangements open to the pebbles, if distributed at random all over the garden, with the incomparably smaller number of arrangements in which they would spell out the inscription ‘Welcome to Wales by British Railways’. The ratio of the latter small number over the former very large number would represent the fantastically small chance of the pebbles having arranged themselves in the form of the inscription merely by accident; and this would crushingly refute any supposition of this having been the case."**
According to Polanyi, the significance of this type of occurance is because of the quality of orderliness. That's because the probability of some events, if happened randomly, is infinitesimal. It seems improbable that such order be a result of mere accident. He then applies this to the theory of evolution:
"This bears on the theory that the different living species have come into existence by accidental mutations. This can be affirmed only if, first you accredit the distinctive pattern of living beings as exhibiting a peculiar orderliness which you trust yourself to appraise, and second you accept at the same time the belief that evolution has taken place by a vastly
improbable coincidence of random events combining to an orderly shape of a highly distinctive character. However, if we are to identify—as I am about to suggest—the presence of significant order with the operation of an ordering principle, no highly significant order can ever be said to be solely due to an accidental collocation of atoms, and we must conclude therefore that the assumption of an accidental formation of the living species is a logical muddle. It appears to be a piece of equivocation, unconsciously prompted by the urge to avoid facing the problem set to us by the fact that the universe has given birth to these curious beings, including people like ourselves. To say that this result was achieved by natural selection is entirely beside the point. Natural selection tells us only
why the unfit failed to survive and not why any living beings, either fit or unfit, ever came into existence. As a solution for our problem it is logically on a par with the method of catching a lion by catching two and letting one escape."**
On the origin of life there are several hypotheses, from the Primordial Soup (more of a theory than a thesis) to the Electric Spark to RNA world.. . Almost all are based on this small probabilities. Some say the time that it took for life to emerge was so long that makes it less improbable after all. But in the previous example, it still seems improbable that the pebbles write themselves into a "meaningful" sentence after a billion year and the magnitude of order in a sentence is not even comparable to the order in a single cell organism.

** The book is about not the origin of life, but personal knowlege.

Written by Pinocchio


Sofy said...

I've read it over for times. Each time with more curiosity and admiration. but the first parentheses and the last name kept me wonder!

Is it claimed to be written by Pinocchio for the same reason as its being generated randomly?! ;>

maral sh. said...

Well, I was trying to create a paradox while being playful ;>

if the parentheses is true, then the text and "written by..." is false.if the text (without parentheses and "written by..." part) is true, then the two other parts are false. if the "written by Pinnocchio" is true, then the parentheses and the text is false.

Sofy said...

So, I, as a reader, should have something to contribute to the text:> I shall decide, or there won't be any absolute judgement...

Yet, there is no absolute judgement!

maral sh. said...

or there is absolutely no absolute judgement :))

nima said...

That was cunning! I liked this.

Was the book amazing enough to convince you to finish it?

maral sh. said...

@Nima,I had read half way through it before. but after writing this post I contacted a friend whose thesis was on this very book and am reading her thesis which is the gist of the book in Farsi.

Cunning? It is, as I emphasized, not about the origin of life. it was one of the many examples Polanyi gave without any obvious intentions to change the subject from philosophy of science, and the role of subjective judgement in it.

nima said...

I meant the claim that the meaningful passage is written randomly, while the author himself is pinocchio.

And brilliantly tricky may be a euphemism for cunning ;)

nima said...

If you've read my last post; I'd made a crude calculation of the probability of world if wants to play a piece of beethoven in a model where molecules are bits of a binary digital memory structure. you can see world plays it, but just a few.
It's not exactly the case of our world. A container of moving particles. We don't have only particles, but the basic "forces" in addition to them.
I conclude that forces give order to our world. Concentrating of hydrogen clouds in spheres and formation of stars in first level of order in our world due to gravity force. And synthesis of RNA molecules is not as improbable as seems to be, because of electrical forces that rules which molecules are candidate for a combination.
I mean forces eliminate a great deal of probabilities; that will conclude to the very "order."
e.g. if you have carbon, hydrogen and helium in a container, electrical forces limits the number of probabilistic products of them, and it means less randomness and more orderliness.
I think we can calculate the exact probability of formation of RNA under the particular environment of it's own, which I think after passing billions of years -and repeating the process- would meet the requirements of producing life.

nima mf said...

ever heard of the Pinocchio paradox?
however I think you are making a mistake here for Pinocchio owes his reputation not to being a frequent liar but to not being able to tell a lie without trouble. I would have chosen 'written by the boy who cried wolf'.
and why is this the only post with a comments section?