Starry Wisdom

Entropic Words from Neilathotep

Thursday, September 29, 2005

More Squid Crud

k8to mentioned reading about Humboldt squid, which I had known for a while to be a particularly interesting, and scary, species. Tooling around on the web I found a very funny bit of prose about them, which I have to repeat for your reading pleasure:

A Humboldt squid can grow to the size and weight of a hockey player. So, imagine Todd Bertuzzi with bulging eyes, eight arms, two tentacles, three hearts, a beak for a mouth, a brain wrapped around his esophagus and gullet with a willingness — nay, eagerness — to dine on his own kind every other meal, and you get a sense of how the squid has earned such a fearsome reputation.

posted by neil at 12:43 am
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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Giant Squid News

There is big news in the giant squid world. Japanese scientists have managed to photograph Architeuthis in its native environment.

posted by neil at 9:06 pm
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Sunday, September 25, 2005


A few months ago suggested that I create some sort of online method for him to peruse the books that I have recently read. I had been keeping a spreadsheet of this very thing since last year, so it seemed fairly straightforward for me to convert it into a simple webapp. Therefore, I present to you It’s pretty simplistic, and there are still a few things I mean to do, but it seems to work well enough.

posted by neil at 2:30 pm
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Sunday, September 18, 2005

Some Diversions

I’m not going to explain these. You’re just going to have to see for yourselves:

Gem Sweater
Grow Cube


posted by neil at 9:45 pm
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Wednesday, September 7, 2005


I got my new Architeuthis dux mug today. The world has moved back towards normal.

posted by neil at 9:50 am
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Tuesday, September 6, 2005


The time has come for me to finish up the chain of thought that I started in this post, when I decided to read a book about Intelligent Design written by a proponent, as all my information about it had been presented by those who did not feel it was a true scientific idea. I was going to try to go into it with an open mind and see if I could be convinced.

Well, after searching around for a book, I eventually ended up getting Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science & Theology by William Dembski. I am not at all sure what my train of thought was in buying that one in particular. In fact I believe I meant to get a different one, since that title didn’t really instill me with much confidence on the topic. Regardless, I read the book, and I will now present my analysis.

Executive Summary

Intelligent Design is a con job designed to use terms and concept from science and logic to confuse lay people into believing it. And once people believe it, it can be used to destroy science in the name of religion.


Dembski is a mathematician, so the fundamentals of his argument had a mathematical bent. The background actually makes sense, more or less. He discusses a concept he calls Complex Specified Information (CSI). Basically this boils down to a piece of information that is non trivial (complex) and shows some sort of pattern that can be recognized by intelligence (specified). This concept is not terrible, and the example he gives is the signal from the movie Contact which is something like 110111011111011111110111111111110… it boils down to a series of pulses and pauses where there is a group of pulses adding up to a prime number followed by a pause, then on to the next prime number, on up for the first several prime numbers. In this case it ends up being about 1000 bits of information. It is complex because it is long, and it is specified because it defines the prime numbers. He then goes on to show how it is unlikely that a random source would pulse out this pattern… the chances of this are 2^-1000. The next step is to show that it is is improbable that anything other than an ordered system would end up producing this sort of output. In other words something with some sort of intelligence. This is fairly valid, and this maps quite closely with the way SETI actually works.

The problem with this idea, however, is the next step, when he transforms it from a mathematical problem into a biological one. Actually, that is misstating it, it’s more like transforming the biological problem into the mathematical one. He, and many ID proponents, talk about how there are Irreducibly Complex biological mechanisms, and that these systems are also CSI. Irreducible complexity means that the component/mechanism doesn’t work without all the parts in it working correctly. The nonbiological example given is a mousetrap, which requires a spring, a catch, a base, etc… and if something breaks, it won’t work. Then biological ‘examples’ are discussed. Two “important” ones are the mammalian eye and bacterial flagellum. The eye is posited to be an amazing development, and nonfunctional without any of the subparts. This is patently untrue, and in fact the array of eyes present in the varieties of life today show that you can easily see an pathway from simple dots of pigmentation into modern eyes without there needing to magically be a working part.

The bacterial flagellum is actually more interesting, because evidently it is a cornerstone example. The flagellum is a little whip like extension from some bacterial cells, which is connected to a sort of chemically driven motor that spins it, much like a propeller. It is actually a fascinating device, and it is composed of about 40 different specific proteins, each of which ensures that the flagellum properly works. You take any of them away, and you wouldn’t have a working flagellum. That part of the argument is fine, but what isn’t addressed is that there are other possible uses for subsets of those proteins. In fact there is one good example of a mechanism used by some bacteria to spread toxins into other cells. This neat little contraption uses about 5 or so of the same proteins, in a similar configuration. This completely destroys any argument that the flagellum is irreducible. Sure, it’s not longer a motor, but it is something useful.

Anyway, assuming you believe their assumptions that these are Irreducibly Complex/CSIs then you can use the earlier logic to show it is improbable that it would come from anything other than a non random or intelligent source. Clearly the base assumption that it is a CSI can be shown to be false in many of their prime examples. There is another assumption that natural selection is a completely random process based on mutation, but this is not necessarily true. If nothing else the SELECTION part of it is by definition nonrandom. Features and functions are chosen for suitability, not by random chance.


It all boils down to an easily seen through veneer of pseudoscience hiding a theological agenda. And the title of the book I read makes this pretty clear. Which is why in some ways it was not the ideal book for me to read, since was kind of heavy on the theology. But it also showed how weak the arguments are, and how the point is to merely displace evolution. Alternate parts of science, such as the big bang are accepted as simple facts in the book, but evolution in particular is picked on. They even accept some degree of natural selection (called microselection) but say that it is insufficient to cause speciation. No real evidence is ever given, and the only counter-arguments to most Darwinian claims are “well, I find that hard to believe. Therefore what I say is true” in about 7000 more words.

Further Reading

In addition to a link to a pdf version of the article I posted a couple of weeks ago, I’d also like to post a couple of other online articles talking about ID vs Evolution. Granted they are from a Darwinian perspective, but they do a good job of showing what is wrong with ID and why it is not science.

One Side Can Be Wrong: An article by Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne about ID in the classroom.

The Case Against Intelligent Design: The New Republic article I posted earlier, in pdf form, not requiring login.

The Flagellum Unspun: prepublication of an article showing how Irreducible Complexity “isn’t” with specific details of the flagellum issue I presented above.

posted by neil at 9:53 pm
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Thursday, September 1, 2005

Annoying Day

First the clip on my bike helmet broke, which forced me to go buy a new one (thankfully there is a bike shop close to work). Then a bit later my Architeuthis mug fell and broke. Argh!

posted by neil at 3:29 pm
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